KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 23 — Malaysia’s actual poverty rate could stand from 15 to 20 per cent, despite official government data in 2016, placing it only at 0.4 per cent of households living under the poverty lines said, United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Phillip Alston.

Alston said this is due to the country’s unrealistic and outdated poverty line measurement of RM980 for a household of four, per month that is mainly utilised in the 1970s.

“Malaysia’s national poverty line is not consistent with the cost of living or household income. It might have made sense in 1970, but real household income has increased fivefold since then, and the country has gone from a ‘low-income’ to an ‘upper middle income’ country in that time.

“The national poverty line of RM 980 per household of four people surviving on RM8 per day is not realistic.

“This is a tragically low line for a country on the cusp of attaining high income status, especially since a range of rigorous independent analyses have suggested a more realistic poverty rate of 16 to 20 per cent and about nine per cent of households survive on less than RM2,000 per month,” the report stated.

In his preliminary report, Alston quoted Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) report that gauges the actual poverty rate in the country after it raises the threshold to 60 per cent of the median household income. The report places Malaysia’s poverty rate at 20 per cent of the population.

Alston said by not gauging the real rate of poverty could have a detrimental effect on national development and as well as public policymaking.

“This would lead to underinvestment in policies gear to reduce poverty and inadequate social safety net that does not meet the people’s needs.

When asked on what should be the country’s new benchmarked of the poverty line, Alston said it is not up to him to decide however reiterate that the government should engage a more realistic manner in gauging poverty and even pointed out that they can refer to local independent research done by the KRI and even Bank Negara as the basis.

Alston then reiterated that the government should adopt a more meaningful poverty line that is consistent with international standards.

“Policies should also be devised to address the needs of those living within the Bottom 20 and there is a need to expand overall spending on social protection,” he said.

Alston also advised the government to adopt a more comprehensive data transparency policy as he stated that obtaining official data from the government has been difficult.

Alston is part of the UN Human Rights Procedures and was in the country for the past 11 days, from 13 to Aug 23, to investigate the country’s efforts in eradicating poverty among other things.