PETALING JAYA: The National Patriots Association (Patriot) today hit out at Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali for his quick denial of a United Nations expert’s claim that Malaysia has understated the extent of its poverty.
Instead of dismissing it as “baseless”, Patriot said Azmin should have asked his officers to reassess the statistics and the basis of the poverty line calculation.
On Friday, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston disputed Malaysia’s assertion that it has nearly eliminated poverty, saying that official figures were inaccurate and did not reflect realities on the ground.
Following an 11-day visit to Malaysia, Alston noted, among others, the dire need for the country to re-evaluate its national poverty line of RM980 per month (or RM 8 per day) for a family of four.
He also called on the authorities to devise a poverty-alleviating framework that took into account the needs of marginalised communities such as migrant workers, refugees, stateless people and the disabled.
In a statement today, Patriot president Arshad Raji said the denial syndrome of government officials, when suddenly caught with a blunder, must stop.
“Common sense will tell that a family of four will find it impossible to survive with a meagre income of RM980 a month in the Klang Valley,” he said.
Minimum wage must go up, says MTUC
In a separate statement, Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) said the government must study the effect of low wages as they were directly tied to poverty rates.
Its secretary-general, J Solomon, said the current minimum wage of RM1,100 a month should be raised as it was not consistent with prevailing living conditions.
He welcomed Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s assurance the government would look into the poverty rate, adding that it should not pretend that everything was normal when millions were struggling to have a decent living.
Solomon said Alston’s findings were in line with MTUC’s stand that the government had not been using the real factors on the ground to assess actual poverty.
“It is way off tangent. If the difference is 1% or 2% from the 0.4% government poverty line, then the stand of the government is acceptable, but the UN findings are 15% to 20%.
“That means at least around five million workers are earning below the poverty line,” he said.
On Azmin’s response, Solomon noted that the handbook showing the government’s figure of 0.4% poverty rate was issued in 2011 and not credible.
“The last seven years have seen a steep rise in the cost of living while wages have stood still for most,” he said.
“Azmin’s denial is a reflection that he is disconnected with the real situation on the ground. He cannot be ignorant that a substantial population of Malaysians are living on borrowed income for their basic needs.
“Being in denial will only see Malaysia continuously postponing its hope of becoming a developed nation at the targeted year.”
Poverty even in ‘prosperous’ Petaling Jaya
Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said there was poverty even in the “prosperous” city she represented.
Maria said the national poverty line must take into account the ability of the people to live healthily, take part in the society meaningfully, and possess opportunities for personal and family development.
“Unfortunately, in my brief experience as MP for Petaling Jaya, I have learned this is not a reality for many of my constituents, even as they live side-by-side with their more affluent neighbours,” she said in a statement.
She said a survey by volunteer pediatricians of 46 children at PPR Lembah Subang found that 11% of them were stunted.
“Teachers in schools which serve the urban poor have admirably taken up the task of pooling funds to pay for lunches of their students. Many others, including my office, are taking up the task of extending food aid to the under-privileged.
“Surely, in a prosperous city like Petaling Jaya, this should be considered as a small indication of a much graver problem nationally,” she said.
Maria said although the PH government was trying to address the problem through Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH) and the e-kasih database, these were either inadequate or inaccessible.
She urged the government to look into various other reports on poverty in Malaysia.
Khazanah Research Institute (KRI), she said, found that households with income below RM2,000 only had an after-expenses balance of RM76.
Another report by the World Bank found that one in five children suffered from stunting.
“The wide array of studies indicates a growing disconnect between our national poverty line that was devised in the 70s with the reality of living in 21st century Malaysia.
“Where our costs of living have increased manifold, our poverty line remains stagnant,” she added.