KUALA LUMPUR, July 10 — Malaysia is a country blessed with many natural resources that is seeing poverty growing due to a deeply entrenched culture that prioritises self-profit among a small band of those in power, Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said tonight.
The PKR president was weighing in on recent reports that more Malaysians were feeling poorer today, with more segments of the population being marginalised even as the country aspired towards being a high-income nation.
He urged the ruling politicians from Perikatan Nasional (PN) to accept the reality of the pervasive poverty in Malaysia and revise their priorities to reverse the population’s financial pain.
“There is a need to react to poverty more proactively. We cannot, for example, use power only to enrich a small number of people, or the excuse that PN is out to save the Malays whereas the first to be saved are the MPs with their new positions or the excessive number of ministers,” he said in Facebook “live” talk on poverty in Malaysia.
He said the government should be focusing its budget on allocations and amenities related to health, education, and infrastructure which he said would benefit more people than its current approaches in dealing with the economic aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Malaysia fortunately has more than enough resources and wealth to address the issue of poverty. Therefore there is no excuse to not prioritise the problem at hand,” he said.
Referring to United Nations’ special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston’s report released in August last year, Anwar said many were shocked that the government’s claims of poverty not exceeding 0.4 per cent was “unbelievable”.
“In KL and Selangor it is apparent, and poverty is even more severe in Sabah, Sarawak, and Terengganu. Looking at the other cities, it is clear that thousands of others can be categorised as poor.
“Having said that, Alston’s findings and report is not a new phenomenon. A study by noted Universiti Malaya economist Prof Fatimah Kari which took a multidimensional approach in terms of education, health and housing, also indicated the problem is more serious than what is publicly known,” Anwar said.
Fatimah’s study looked at Employees Provident Fund reports, which stated that up to 84 per cent of retirees can be considered marginally or severely poor. Among the 84 per cent, women are by far poorer than men in terms of transportation, housing, income, and education.
“This is particularly the case among Indian retirees, followed by the Malays. Therefore, we must ensure that EPF savings are defended, for it guarantees a degree of living in comfort in the future.
“This is why we opposed the PN government’s proposal to make it easier to withdraw EPF savings, as studies have shown this will bring about more suffering in the future,” he said.
Anwar also questioned the tens of billions of ringgit from the Amanah Saham Bumiputera set aside for the Malays and Bumiputeras, which he claimed seemed to have disappeared among a select few.
“Secondly, hundreds of acres of Malay reserve land have now disappeared. What about the high rates of unemployment in the rural areas and among the urban poor? Thus, the political leadership needs to have the will to act in concert, and to ensure Parliament can debate poverty effectively and guarantee more efficient ways to resolve it.
“There is a need to be more responsible, more transparent, and to avoid corruption and leakages. Hopefully in this manner, and by allocating at least RM26 to RM28 billion for the poor, can poverty begin to be properly addressed,” he said.
The Port Dickson MP added that the Parliamentary Reform and Governance Caucus which he chaired last September invited various economic experts including Prof Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Prof Rajah Rasiah to brief MPs from across the political divide.
“Despite differing viewpoints, the government was urged to accept the statement and new facts. We can ask why after 60 years of independence, and nearly 50 years after the New Economic Policy’s attempt at implementing wealth redistribution, the effects of poverty are still saddening to see, especially among Malays and the Bumiputera of Sabah and Sarawak.