What will it take to get Malaysia to revise the poverty line?

JULY 8 —  Reading a UN report about Malaysia's creative fibbing about poverty in the country was unpleasant.

Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights tweeted about the report (link:https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/44/40/Add.1) and called out the Malaysian government for "backtracking on its poverty commitment."



It isn't the first time the 0.4 per cent poverty rate was brought up. Just last year, questions were brought up about the way Malaysia measured its poverty line and how inaccurate it was to claim that RM980 was an adequate sum, especially when taking into account rising costs of living.

One big roadblock to alleviating poverty in this country is the lack of data, as noted by the report. For some reason, the government does not provide access to information on poverty numbers.

Apparently there is inadequate data in the first place; why is the government so afraid of getting real numbers? Pretending poverty does not exist won't make it disappear.

It wasn't so long ago that China's own poverty line was considered far from World Bank standards. The country has however changed its tack to revise its numbers to be closer to global figures, without the ridiculous defensiveness Malaysia has shown.

Poverty is a global issue. To make it about "face" is ridiculous.

Covid-19 demonstrated just how many people were living hand-to-mouth and how devastating the lockdown was for so many of us, whether Malaysian or non-Malaysian migrants.

I am tired of all the taskforces and committees in this country that seem more an excuse to have photo ops in government meeting rooms.

If Malaysia does form yet another committee to tackle poverty reduction (if a hundred or so haven't already been set up in the last few decades) the first thing it must commit to is transparency.

It is not right that there are no official, publicly accessible data on poverty numbers. Without those numbers, how then can poverty measures be properly implemented?

In Malaysia, the report noted, income inequality is prevalent and despite the many poverty measures implemented, Indians and indigenous peoples have not benefited much.

If poverty is to be eradicated, it must be wiped out for all and not just for targeted groups politicians intend to court in the next election.

With the worsening global economy and the constant looming threat of the pandemic, incomes and their fragility are at the forefront for many Malaysians.

We cannot keep blaming the poor for a lack of productivity or insisting that their fate is deserved for not working hard enough. It is perhaps time, instead, to hold both the government and those who have worked too hard to depress salaries to account.

Poverty is everyone's problem, not just the poor's, and the sooner the average Malaysian realises that, the sooner things will change.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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