We voted in a coalition of hope (Pakatan Harapan), but that hope is rapidly fading.
When we have a government that does not recognise that there are many hungry Malaysians.
When we have a government that continues to maintain our ridiculous poverty rate of 0.4 per cent.
When we have ministers who do not acknowledge the reality of an honest report on poverty (UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty), then we have a coalition without hope – Pakatan without Harapan.
Those of us who work on the ground with large segments of the population are aware that one in three Malaysians is struggling financially and 5-10 per cent are in serious financial need.
There is a crisis of malnutrition among OA (Orang Asli) children, with many going hungry.
The Unicef report on stunting in the inner city outlines the poverty among the urban poor.
The rural communities in Sabah and Sarawak have hardly any change in their living standards for three to four decades.
Poverty is especially devastating to children as they are the most vulnerable to its effects. Many children in our country die due to chronic malnutrition, directly or indirectly. Irreversible long term health and education inequalities are the consequence of poverty; perpetuating the cycle of poverty in the next generation.
Is the current government visually impaired or just heartless?
They seem to speak just like the previous government that we rejected for their corruption and lack of concern for the poor.
That our Minister of Economic Affairs can say that the poverty line income (PLI) of RM980 per month for families (RM1,180 in Sabah and RM1,020 in Sarawak) is “calculated based on the basic requirement for household to live healthily and actively…” is offensive.
If this figure of RM980 enables Malaysian households to “live healthily and actively”, I would recommend that we immediately reduce the salary of all our ministers and elected representatives to RM1,000 as it is adequate for them and their families to live “healthily and actively”. It is important that we do not rub salt into the wounds of our poor by our callous comments.
A comparison of poverty levels between Malaysia and countries that are more developed in the region will show us how ridiculous we look.
The poverty rate in Japan is 16 per cent (percentage whose income falls below half the median household income, OECD 2018), Australia’s is 13.2 per cent (percentage living below poverty line of 50 per cent of median income, Australian Council of Social Service 2018), and Singapore’s absolute poverty rate is 11.8 per cent and relative poverty rate is 26.7 per cent (NUS Social Service Research Centre for 2017 data).
So, obviously our problem is acknowledging that the poverty line income we have set for our people is grossly inadequate. That an international organisation has to come here to tell us the reality that every Malaysian knows is embarrassing.
Even more, for the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty to point out that there are people in dire straits, which we all know is true, but to have a defensive response from the government is not befitting the label of a ‘Harapan’ government.
It is to our shame that we manipulate facts and figures to hide the poverty of the people of Malaysia.
It is time to make a significant change in our poverty level. We cannot continue with the horrible, obscene rate that has been maintained for many years.
It is time to use the median household income as a meaningful poverty line, or at least RM3,000, as the monthly income for a family of five.
Without a revision of the poverty line income, government agencies are not empowered to support these groups. This one move will at least bring some hope back to this coalition government.
We do not need a third car or flying car or mega projects that benefit rich businessmen with little impact to the common man. We need to get down to the work of supporting the bottom 30 to 40 per cent of our people who need help today.
The poverty of our people is our national shame.
If Malaysians continue to remain in poverty, we as a nation continue to fail.
Dr Amar-Singh HSS is Advisor of the National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC). He was previously a Senior Consultant Paediatrician and Head of the Paediatric Department, Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun, Ipoh. Recently retired, he worked in the public healthcare sector for over 36 years.
He is also a Senior Fellow of the Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy
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