​Is it really unfair if I don't get my Covid relief money?

November 5, 2021 | 04:27 pm PT
Tran Huong Thao Lecturer
People tend to look out for themselves in times of crisis. But human civilization was built by personal interests being woven into common goals.

My phone was flooded with notifications. The head of our neighborhood civil group was posting an announcement for people to get their Covid-19 relief payment from the government. Everyone was trying to get in, fighting for their share of the money.

"Our grandmother is eligible, right?" I asked a family member, only to get stares in return.

"She gets a pension and we have not gone hungry yet. Don't sign up."

I stopped pushing, but felt as if others were going one up on us. People are going out in droves to get their money, so why can't we?

I next told my uncle, an informal worker: "You should get some."

He replied: "I don't want to get laughed at. I have a house for rent, and yet I'm seeking relief money? I'm not that mean."

One of my siblings chimed in to say the directors of their company, husband and wife, had declared themselves unemployed to get the relief money again and again. It was not as if the company was going under: their company was still making money every month.

My blood boiled.

In August I joined an angry mob marching toward the local People’s Committee demanding relief payments.

"Where's the fairness?" a man shouted. He said the poorest people in the neighborhood had yet to get a dong while a colleague who still had a job managed to get relief money for his entire family.

The explanations and pleas of the woman in charge at the time were drowned in the cacophony. I backed away from the crowd in small steps, trying to distance myself from the mess as people started to swarm around the poor woman. The frenzy in that room made everyone forget the coronavirus had not gone away yet, and this gathering could be an outbreak in the making.

People line up to get free meals in HCMCs District 1, June 18, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

People affected by Covid-19 line up to get free meals in HCMC's District 1 on June 18. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

I tried telling people to calm down in vain. It was understandable: when emotions run high, rational thoughts tend to get swept away.

I began to feel their infectious resentment as well, wondering why me? I paid my taxes and every fee my neighborhood asked for; so why don't I get my money? Even if I don't need it that much, I'm still entitled to it, and whatever I do with my money should be up to me. Right?

Social media was even worse. Some posted pictures to show off their cash, while others said people they knew got the relief multiple times.

The screaming came to an end following a promise to process complaints the next morning. The mob, having let off steam, had agreed to a truce.

I was making my way to the door when an old man walked in. He said he wanted to share some of the rice given to him during the lockdown with other people, and asked the committee for help.

I sent him to the receptionist for getting a form and signing up for the Covid relief money, but he said, "I still get my pension."

I told him the amount earmarked for the relief was huge at over VND7 trillion ($307.4 million), and if he did not get it, somebody else would. It might be someone unworthy.

"Who is worthy and who is not?" he asked.

The truly poor and desperate, I answered.

"So who is truly poor and desperate?"

I collected my thoughts. I am not that poor, but I don't want to see people similar to me get something I don't. I could gift that money to someone else, maybe a child who was orphaned by Covid or someone who lost their entire fortune to the pandemic.

That is only fair. That is the way it should be.

I told him some people have been gaming the system to steal the support money from others.

He asked with no hint of malice: "So you would do the same to get the money, right? Because that is only fair..."

But I shuddered.

Recently thousands have been caught stealing the relief money through various methods, some even with high-paying jobs.

The authorities have been trying to help anyone they can, willing to distribute the relief money to anyone who might need it. They have been under tremendous pressure to provide for everyone, and thus loopholes appear.

Maybe the responsibility for this mess should not fall on them.

It is all about human nature. No one's morality is infallible, especially in these trying times. When it is every man for himself, greed cannot be far away. Do I really need that money? Maybe I don’t, but I also don’t want to be left out. I don’t want to get the short end of the stick. Is it fair if I do?

People are often unwilling to see past their own pain. But it is exactly why we should stand together to see the bigger picture. We are all stronger that way.

And in the end, no one should get left behind.

*Tran Huong Thao is a lecturer at the Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City. The opinions expressed are her own.

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