Putrajaya defends nation’s poverty rate, says UN rep irresponsible

A UN human rights expert says Putrajaya should review the mechanism for measuring poverty to address the hardships of many Malaysians, many of whom stay in low-cost apartments. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali today defended Malaysia’s absolute poverty rate after a United Nations’ rapporteur questioned Putrajaya’s claim of eradicating poverty.

Azmin said the rate was based on a handbook published by the global organisation.

“We stand by our absolute poverty rate, which was recorded at 0.4% of total households in 2016, or 24,700 households,” he said in a statement, adding that the government was left “disappointed” by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s remarks.

This poverty rate, he said, is derived from internationally-accepted standards, based on the Canberra Group Handbook on Household Income Statistics, which is published by the United Nations.

The Poverty Line Income (PLI) used to derive this poverty incidence, he said, is currently set at RM980 at the national level.

It is calculated based on the basic requirements for a household to live healthily and actively, which is more than the PLI targeted in the Sustainable Development Goal 1 at US$1.25 (RM5.20) per day.

This PLI, Azmin added, is also higher for Sabah at RM1,180 and Sarawak at RM1,020, to take into account additional costs such as transportation.

However, Azmin said that at the implementation level, especially when disbursing assistance, a household’s PLI also factors in location, household size and other demographic factors.

This, he said, may result in a higher household PLI than the national PLI.

“Hence, assistance is tailor-made according to the needs of the recipients, based on the profiling through the eKasih system, which is an innovative initiative by the government to identify the right target group.

“As such, the assertion made by Professor Alston that there is ‘a statistical sleight of hand that has nefarious consequences’ is wholly unacceptable and irresponsible.”

Earlier today, Alston cast doubt on the government’s claim of eradicating poverty, saying it uses a low poverty line that fails to reflect the actual conditions of the country.

He said the official poverty line did not portray the cost of living in the country and excludes vulnerable populations in its official figures.

Alston also said the actual poverty rate of the country is much higher than the official numbers stated.

Alston called on Putrajaya to review the mechanism of measuring poverty to acknowledge and address the hardships of many Malaysians.

Azmin also labelled some of Alston’s remarks as baseless and uncalled for, including the claim that a “sizeable part of Malaysia’s population struggles to get by with tenuous access to food, shelter, education and healthcare”.

“It is both misconceived and erroneous, clearly lacking empirical evidence and rigorous scientific procedures.”

Azmin said that in a bid to increase the effectiveness of poverty eradication initiatives, the government is reviewing its PLI methodology to better reflect the current cost of living.