15 Jan 2021
LETTER | It has indeed been a harsh new reality for consumers living under the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ).
In its obsession to “go digital”, MBPJ is demanding that assessment billing can only be made through digital means, without an alternative, and further warning that the council will not entertain exceptions for late payments. Harsh action that reflects how the local government has not considered the plight of the digitally disadvantaged.
They seem to deny that there is gross digital inequality between the rich and the poor; the rural and the urban and the able and senior citizens. There are indeed many poor and vulnerable groups in MBPJ's jurisdiction who due to poverty, lack of confidence or digital skills are unable to navigate the digital world confidently. They also deserve fairness and justice.
Even private utility companies provide online as well as physical bills and incentivise consumers through discounts to shift towards online billing platforms. The authorities should indeed be more sensitive towards the suffering of the vulnerable rakyat.
No effort has been made to identify and empower vulnerable consumers to help them through the process.
What is extremely disappointing are the so-called counsellors and local politicians who we had hoped would act to protect consumers and enhance their well-being. They have chosen to remain silent instead.
It is indeed laudable for the local government to go digital. It reduces paper wastage as well as brings savings to the agency. But please think of the welfare of all the rakyat, not just the technically savvy.
Fomca urges the local government to revert to sending physical bills and maintain multiple alternatives for payment. It can then carry out a sustained effort to prepare the rakyat through various media to prepare them for the change to digital platforms.
While it is true that many consumers are doing online purchases as well as making online financial transactions, it is also true that many have been excluded due to their economic and skills vulnerability.
The way forward towards digitalisation should be awareness, empowerment and incentivisation. Not punishment. The current action by MBPJ appears to punish the poor and the vulnerable.
The writer is chief executive officer, Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca).
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.