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Erroneous assertions in Sarawak article

September 28, 2011

FMT LETTER: From Dr Lin Mui Kiang, via e-mail

The United Nations in Malaysia would like to set the record straight that the article, ‘UN report praising Sarawak is pure fiction, by Jeswan Kaur published on Sept 27, 2011, is incorrect. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) report does not  state that “Sarawak has done much to arrest human rights abuse and environmental damage”.

While the MDGs do cover some aspects of human rights, it is not a review of the country’s record on human rights but on eight specific goals and thus says little about this. As for environmental damage, the report notes on MDG-7 that there may be data issues relating to forest cover and that forest change has impacts on indigenous minorities although it does not go into detail on the matter.

Rather than glancing over the eight MDGs, it would be incumbent on honest journalism to take a look at the details. Thus, for instance, MDG1, eradicate extreme poverty, has set a goal of halving the incidence of poverty, whether measured on the World Bank’s dollar-a-day criteria or the country’s poverty measure, by 2015, using 1990 as a baseline.

On that score, like it or not, the country and Sarawak has met that target; although Sabah, in particular rural Sabah, has not. This is clearly shown in the MDG-1 chapter. Incidentally, it should be noted that on the World Bank’s dollar-a-day criteria, Malaysia would have close to zero poverty.

Thirdly, it is incumbent upon journalists to understand their data sources and to use them honestly. Citing the World Bank’s Malaysian Economic Monitor (MEM) of November 2010 as a counter to the MDG report is, to put mildly, ridiculous.

The MEM used the same data as the MDG report; indeed, the MDG report pointed out that “Other Bumiputera”, i.e., the indigenous peoples of Sabah, Sarawak and the Orang Asli, now make up more than half the poor households in the country.

There are, in fact, no contradictions between the MEM of November 2010, specifically Chapter 3, and the MDG report, specifically the chapters on MDG-1 and MDG-2. The journalist has apparently read both the MEM and the MDG report carelessly.

Nowhere in the MEM does it say that “Sabah and Sarawak (are) the poorest and second poorest states in Malaysia”, as can be seen from Figure 3.2 in the MEM, which clearly indicates that the two poorest states, as measured by the poverty rate, are Sabah and Terengganu.

However, it is true that Sabah and Sarawak are the two largest contributors to the total poor in Malaysia.

Incidentally, the credibility of the journalist is at risk when she makes the outrageous claim that “in 1980, only 31.8% of Sarawakians had access to water supply. But in 1995, 85% of the population were devoid of any.”

It is true that the access to treated water in rural Sarawak is lagging, but to claim that “85% of the population were devoid of (water supply)” is ludicrous, considering that half of Sarawak’s population is urbanised, where the vast majority has access to treated water.

Fourthly, on gender equality, the journalist should again take a proper look at the stated goals in the MDG-3. If anything, the MDG 2010 report has gone beyond the narrow remit of the stated goals and covered additional issues.

While it did not specifically address the issue of rape allegations amongst the Penan, it did point out the high incidence of and the disturbing increase in rapes in the country. To suggest that the MDG report “heap(ed) praise on Sarawak for meeting its MDGs” is, to put it mildly, dishonest.

What the report does do is to note where the country and Sarawak did meet the MDG targets or are on track to meet those targets by 2015, as well as where there remain substantial gaps that still need to be addressed by the government and other relevant parties.

Finally, none of this is to deny Jeswan Kaur her rights to her views on Sarawak’s development or mal-development, as she sees it. The UN is aware of the state of the indigenous peoples and monitors that in other ways than the MDGs with its specific remit.

We would like to invite readers to refer to the MDG 2010 Report as it contains a rich volume of data and analysis. It can be downloaded at www.un.org.my

The writer is UN Coordination Specialist, United Nations Malaysia

Also read:

UN report praising Sarawak is pure fiction


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