FELLOW bloggers Ahirudin Attan and Jeff Ooi were accorded a fair bit of publicity in recent weeks. Some mainstream media gave them space and highlighted their court cases, while some of us walked with them to the court room in Wisma Denmark.
While their cases are heatedly debated in and outside blogosphere, I was attracted to two news item this week - one concerns the big fight againt Ah Longs, and another one about civil servants moonlighting as taxi drivers.
Judging from the slant given to these two items, I get the impression that Ah Longs will be here to stay and continue to terrorise borrowers (read small businessmen shunned by banks). And I also sensed that civil servants who use their spare time trying to make ends meet by being taxi drivers may not be allowed to do so without being harassed.
Let's look at the Ah Longs first. The authorities are suggesting that action should, and would, also be taken against the borrowers. Well Sir, this is easier said than done! May look good on paper and make good TV sound byte, but not so doable lah...
Who are Ah Long borrowers anyway? Has anyone done a comprehensive study on them? Anyone got a reliable data base? Are you an Ah Long borrower? Is your enighbour one? Does anybody know? Can Datuk Michael Chong help identify who they are? Or can Rakan Cop seek them out?
Will we see an Ah Long reporting to the police: "That so-and-so is a borrower, and I am the lender." Will that ever take place?
Or will the borrower saunter into the police station and declare: "Tuan, sayalah itu peminjam dari Ah Long so-and-so. Tuan mau bikin apa dengan saya? Tuan mau saya bagi maklumat siapa itu Ah Long? tuan ingat saya gila kah?"
The Ah Longs thrive because financial institutions do not fully support free enterprise. Not many banks genuinely help genuine businessmen in dire straits. That's the story I hear repeatedly where Ah Longs are concerned.
By wanting to take action against the borrowers, I think the authorities are missing the wood for the trees.
Listen to Bob, an Ah Long forced-believer: "I just can't borrow money from banks! I have a legitimate business, a sizeable staff, an office building. I ran into some cash flow problems. I sought some financing from banks. I filled countless forms, interviewed by many officers, made to declare numerous items.
"And then I got a NO as an answer. Why? Because I'm regarded as a bad risk, having been blacklisted for defaulting old loans. I've paid ALL these loans. I've got documents to say I'm clean. But I'm still under Bank Negara's black list.
"Can you fault me for going to my neighbourhood Ah Longs who roll me so that I can continue to run my business, ensure my staff are not put to the street, and keep my clients happy? I pay dearly for these loans, yes. Where are the banks when I need them?"
And listen to Ari, a government clerk during the day and a taxi driver at night: "Abang, I'm a family man. My wife is working. I have to school-going children. I live in a low-cost flat. I bought it for RM25,000 about 10 years ago. The lifts break down very often; the staircase are full of grafitti; the toilet leaks.
"My family takes home about RM1,500 a month. My loan repayment for the house is RM180, my motorbike loan RM100, my groceries is about RM200, my marketing is RM60 a week, school bus fees take it another RM80, hire-purchase for my refrigerator and television is RM140. Then there's my petrol bill, pocket money for the two girls, tuition, money for my old folks, the odd night to the pasar malam...
"Abang, tak boleh survive on that kind of gaji! So when my brother in law suggested I drive a taxi at night, it was god-send! NowI'm saving to buy my own taxi, I can at least take my family to Port Dickson for a Sunday outing. After the petrol price went up, even that is no longer possible.
"You want to know how many Government servants drive taxi? Plenty! It's not a haram business! What's wrong if I drive a taxi to enable me to save, buy new clothes for my children, support my father's medical bills. Hello! You ingat semua orang bawa taxi kaya kah? It's a very competitive industry Abang! Not many people take taxi anymore because they are also affected by the rising prices."
Bob and Ari are just two hardworking fellows. They are very responsible people. They need support and encouragement. They feed and clothe their families as best as they can, even if they know the risks are high and sacrifices are truly burdensome.
Surely they can't be faulted. More than that, surely they need help.