Anwar wants review of Malaysia’s poverty line

Anwar Ibrahim.

KOTA KINABALU: Anwar Ibrahim agrees with a United Nations’ human rights expert who has questioned the unrealistic official poverty line in Malaysia.

Anwar, who is PKR president, said poverty was a prevalent issue and an apparent problem everywhere in the country.

“There is no village or estate in Malaysia that is without poor people. Every week, I go back to Port Dickson and I deliberately pick two or three poor households to help. You also can go to Penampang or Tenom (in Sabah) … it is there.

“So (United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip) Alston was right,” he said, adding he immediately called a meeting with the parliamentary caucus on reform and governance, which he chairs, to discuss the UN human rights report.

He said economist Jomo Kwame Sundram had also told him that they shouldn’t be discussing about the B40 group but the B70, who are said to be the poorest category of people.

Anwar was speaking during a dialogue with Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) students entitled the “Digital Native Agenda (DNA23) — The Challenges and Way Forward” here last night.

He was replying to a question from a student who had questioned the 0.4% poverty level in Malaysia and contended the actual rate should be between 15% and 20%. He also wanted to know if the government would reevaluate the level.

Alston courted controversy last month when he said the official poverty line does not portray the actual cost of living in the country and excludes vulnerable populations in its official figures.

Alston said the government’s claim that poverty has been eradicated or exists merely in small pockets in rural areas is incorrect.

The national poverty line is currently set at RM980 per household per month, which would mean a family of four surviving on RM8 for each person per day.

Anwar said that is why he wanted the government to review the poverty line.

“The diagnosis needs to be right in order to be given the right medication. You can’t be having a heart disease but then have your legs amputated,” he said.

However, he said he did not agree with all of Alston’s views, adding that economic experts from Universiti Malaya and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia had hit out at the report.

“But the bottom line is the measurement of the poverty line is unrealistic.

“It doesn’t mean the government is not doing anything about this. Even the previous Barisan Nasional government did something … we’re not denying that. But the weaknesses were big,” he said.

Anwar said the country spent between RM26 billion and RM28 billion a year to subsidise the poor in Malaysia.

“That’s a big amount but what happened? There were leakages and agents in the villages, who are not fishermen, were getting the funds.

“Why? Because he is the Umno branch chief or such. This kind of things cannot go on. The money should reach the targeted groups.

“The funds are more than enough but the question is on the implementation part; there should be no leakages and no corruption,” he said.

Malaysia Agreement 1963

Meanwhile, the Port Dickson MP noted the Pakatan Harapan government is making better progress than previous governments on the promises made under the Malaysia Agreement 1963.

Anwar said Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had announced an important point during his Malaysia Day speech in Kuching two days ago when he said the formation of Malaysia involved the coming together of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.

“The agreement is not between the states in peninsula with Sabah and Sarawak but the federation of the states with Sabah and Sarawak.

“This is what MA63 is about. The agreement outlined several matters, some of which have been implemented and some not yet,” he said.

He added a high-level committee to discuss the review and implementation of MA63 had only been established by the government almost 60 years after the formation of Malaysia.

“The prime minister set up this committee that involves both the chief ministers of Sabah and Sarawak … this is major progress.

“All this while, despite the change of several prime ministers, there has been nothing like this committee.

“I think the people of Sabah and Sarawak should welcome this as a start to make us one big family,” Anwar said.