Thursday, May 19, 2022

After Bella, questions swirl over unregistered NGOs

The SOPs of the social welfare department have been questioned following reports of a young girl with Down syndrome suffering abuse at a home in Kuala Lumpur.

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Questions have been raised over the SOPs of the social welfare department (JKM) in terms of the children under its care following news that a teenager with Down syndrome in the capital city had been subjected to physical abuse.

The issue surfaced in a police report made on July 1 against a home known as Rumah Bonda.

The report said that children in JKM’s care were placed at the home even though it was unlicensed.

It detailed acts of abuse towards the children including slapping, kicking, hitting with sticks, splashing with tom yam soup and pulling out the hair of those who were said to have disobeyed the founder of the home, Siti Bainun Ahd Razali.

It also said that Siti Bainun had given babies away to foster parents without the permission of their biological mothers.

In May last year, a baby named Adam died due to the negligence on the part of the management.

According to the police report, no action was taken although the hospital had opened an investigation paper.

Siti Bainun, the home’s founder, is also a member of Puteri Umno. Well-known activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi, meanwhile, is an adviser.

He had come under fire on social media for remaining silent about the matter.

“It happened in the home of my own friend, causing me to wonder what really happened,” he said.

“Questions like who, when, why, where – all of these were in my head from early on, but I kept quiet because it was all in the middle of Covid.

“Why, after it happened, was nothing said to anyone, no help requested? Finally, I blamed myself because I did not ask enough or had no time for my friends, and so on.”

“They knew the home was not registered, so why were cases still registered even with this knowledge?”

Syed Azmi said he did not want to air any opinions on the case of the girl with Down syndrome, known as Bella, so that the investigation would not be prejudiced.

The complainant, meanwhile, has received a notice of claim from Siti Bainun.

A community activist who asked not to be named said the home had been promoted by the NGO and other activists involved as though it was registered with JKM.

The activist said a transparent investigation needs to be made to shed light on the matter.

“The situation is strange because they (JKM) knew the home was not registered, so why were cases still registered even with this knowledge?

“It is understood that JKM does not have enough shelters as there are too many cases of children born out of wedlock who have no where to go.”

The activist said JKM should have launched a probe into the matter.

“If there have been deaths, that is a red flag, but it was still operating.”

Another activist, Ahmad Aliff AS Ahmad Shariffuddin, said the Rumah Bonda case was solid proof that the government through the agencies overseeing NGOs must be more strict in regulating the activities of organisations, especially the management of public funds.

“If the committee list and financial reports of all NGOs are displayed each year in a portal, this would allow the people to keep tabs on their integrity,” Aliff, the co-founder of SCRUT said.

“If even they cannot provide even the audit reports for their financials each year, how are we to believe that the management of a particular NGO can be trusted?”

Aliff said checks with the Registry of Societies of Malaysia found that Rumah Bonda had been registered as an NGO for a year but had yet to submit any financial reports.

MalaysiaNow previously reported calls for greater transparency on the part of charity NGOs regarding their audits and cash flow to prevent such organisations from being turned into personal cash cows.

This is because Bank Negara Malaysia allows 30% of NGO collections to be used for administrative costs including the salary of the founder or chairman of the group.

Bella’s plight became known after a woman claimed that the girl had been splashed with hot water and tied up while under the care of an NGO’s welfare home.

Her experience shocked the country, with the hashtag #JusticeforBella quickly going viral on social media.

Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin had also voiced concern over the issue.

“Bella’s suffering as a result of being abused is very heart-wrenching,” she said, adding that those responsible should be punished accordingly.

Previous media reports said Bella had been found in Kuala Lumpur alone, with no information available at the time on her parents or other family members.

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