Kit Siang: Release raw data for accurate poverty research in Malaysia, quit ‘feel-good numbers’ approach

Experts have said the poverty line should be increased to provide a more accurate picture of poverty levels in Malaysia. — Bernama pic
Experts have said the poverty line should be increased to provide a more accurate picture of poverty levels in Malaysia. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 — The federal government must provide primary data for poverty research in Malaysia and move away from releasing manicured figures that appear good on paper but do not reflect reality, DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang said today.

Lim said the Economic Planning Unit and Department of Statistics Malaysia should be instructed to release disaggregated data or data broken down into detailed sub-categories, noting that this would match the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition’s pledge for data transparency.

“First and foremost, the EPU and Department of Statistics need be directed to release disaggregated data (anonymized in keeping with the requirements of the Statistics Act) from the last Household Income-Expenditure Survey to permit researchers to undertake independent analysis.

“The release would represent the commitment to open and transparent sharing of data consistent with the PH Manifesto. This is a promised reform and needs to be met,” the Iskandar Puteri MP said in a statement today.

Noting that the release of such data was a “basic and common practice” consistent with the United Nations’ principles of statistics, Lim said: “No statistically mature country hoards survey data in the way Malaysia does.” 

Lim also questioned the Poverty Line Income (PLI) method currently used by Malaysia, noting that the resulting figures of 0.4 per cent or 24,700 households nationwide considered to be poor in 2016 indicate “possible gross underestimation given the realities on the ground: whether in the marginalized urban pockets, rural communities or social groups in Sarawak and Sabah”.

Lim said such an estimate was “delusional and cannot be used as a basis for planning and allocation of resources”, urging for a replacement of the methodology to bring Malaysia’s measurement of poverty levels to be in line with international best practice.

Lim argued that the previous Barisan Nasional administration had circumvented internationally-known and well-established calculation methods, adding that Malaysia should establish an independent technical expert group to deal with the calculation of poverty levels in the country.

“It is time for Malaysia to move towards a fully transparent approach by abandoning outdated practices designed to generate ‘feel good’ numbers.” 

“There is great urgency in addressing this issue of credible measures to coincide with the preparation of the 12th Malaysia Five Year Plan to achieve shared prosperity for all Malaysians and achieve the goals of becoming an advanced nation,” he said.

The Economic Affairs Ministry recently said Malaysia currently uses a PLI level of RM980 nationally, and at a higher level of RM1,020 for Sarawak and RM1,180 for Sabah (to factor in additional costs such as transportation costs), but experts have said the poverty line should be increased to provide a more accurate picture of poverty levels in Malaysia.

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