WHEN we have a government that does not recognise there are many hungry Malaysians and continues to maintain our ridiculous poverty rate of 0.4%, and ministers who do not acknowledge the reality of an honest report on poverty (UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights), then we have a coalition without hope – Pakatan without Harapan.
Those of us who work on the ground with large segments of the population are aware that one in three Malaysians is struggling financially and 5% to 10% are in serious financial need.
There is a crisis of malnutrition among Orang Asli children and many are going hungry.
The Unicef report on stunting in the inner city areas outlines the poverty among the urban poor.
Rural communities in Sabah and Sarawak have not undergone any substantial change in their living standards over the past four decades. Poverty is especially devastating to children as they are the most vulnerable to its effects. Many children in our country die due to, directly or indirectly, chronic malnutrition. Irreversible long-term inequality in health and education is the consequence of poverty and perpetuates the cycle into the next generation.
The current government seems to speak just like the previous one, which the majority of Malaysians rejected for their corruption and lack of concern for the poor.
That our Economic Affairs Minister can say the poverty line income (PLI) of RM980 per month for families (RM1,180 in Sabah and RM1,020 in Sarawak) is “calculated based on the basic requirement for household to live healthily and actively” is offensive. If this figure of RM980 enables Malaysian households to “live healthily and actively”, I would recommend that we immediately reduce the salary of all our ministers and elected representatives to RM1,000. It is important that we do not rub salt into the wounds of our poor with callous comments.
A comparison of poverty levels between Malaysia and countries that are more developed in the region will show us how ridiculous we look. The poverty rate in Japan is 16% (percentage whose income falls below half the median household income, OECD 2018), Australia 13.2% (percentage living below poverty line of 50% of median income, Australian Council of Social Service 2018), and Singapore absolute poverty rate 11.8% and relative poverty rate 26.7% (NUS Social Service Research Centre for 2017 data).
So, our problem is in acknowledging that the poverty line income we have set for our people is grossly inadequate. It is embarrassing that an international organisation has to come here to tell us the reality that every Malaysian knows. The defensive response from the government is not befitting the label of a Harapan government. It is to our shame that we manipulate facts and figures to hide the poverty of the people of Malaysia.
We cannot continue with the rate that has been maintained for many years. It is time to use the median household income as a meaningful poverty line, or at least RM3,000 as the monthly income for a family of five.
Without a revision of the poverty line income, government agencies are not empowered to support these groups. This one move will at least bring some hope back to this government.
We do not need a third car or flying car or mega projects that benefit rich businessmen with little impact on the common man. We need to get down to the work of supporting the bottom 30% to 40% of our people who need help today.
The poverty of our people is our national shame. If Malaysians continue to remain in poverty, we as a nation will fail.
DATUK DR AMAR-SINGH HSS
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