Malaysia Insists Poverty Near Zero Despite UN Expert’s Doubts

The Ministry of Economic Affairs finds UN Special Rapporteur’s comments “wholly unacceptable and irresponsible.”

KUALA LUMPUR, August 23 — The Malaysian government stood by its absolute national poverty rate of 0.4 per cent, disputing a United Nations (UN) expert’s assertions that up to one out of five people in Malaysia could be impoverished.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs said it was “wholly unacceptable and irresponsible” for UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston to say that Malaysia’s stand on virtually eliminating poverty was based on a “statistical sleight of hand”.

Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali said Malaysia’s national poverty rate of 0.4 per cent in 2016, or 24,700 households, was derived from internationally-accepted standards based on the Canberra Group Handbook on Household Income Statistics, Second Edition (2011) that was published by the UN.

“The Poverty Line Income (PLI) used to derive this poverty incidence is currently set at RM980 at national level and 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 USD1.25 per day.

“This PLI is also higher for Sabah at RM1,180 and Sarawak RM1,020 to take into account additional costs, such as transportation,” Azmin said in a statement today.

However, he did indicate that the government was in the process of reviewing the PLI methodology to better reflect the current cost of living. This included introducing a Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) which looks at disparity beyond income levels and aims to better reflect household social mobility.

Azmin also disputed Alston’s claim that a “sizable part of Malaysia’s population struggles to get by with tenuous access to food, shelter, education, and health care, and limited ability to exercise civil and political rights”, calling it a misconceived and erroneous statement “clearly lacking empirical evidence and rigorous scientific procedures”.

“With regards to the assertion that Malaysians have ‘…limited ability to exercise civil and political rights’, this is rebutted by the universal participation of 82.3 per cent of Malaysians in the last general election which saw for the first time a peaceful change in federal administration since Independence,” Azmin said.

The UN Special Rapporteur traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Sarawak, Sabah, and Kelantan during his 11 day visit to Malaysia. He met state and federal government officials, international agencies, civil society, academics, and people affected by poverty in urban and rural areas.

Alston had earlier today refuted Malaysia’s claim of all but eradicating poverty, saying millions of families are scraping by on very low incomes.

He said the monthly RM 980 poverty line underpinning Malaysia’s official 0.4 per cent national poverty rate, or less than 25,000 households, was a “very low and highly unrealistic poverty line”.

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