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The invisible poor

  • The official 0.4% poverty rate has been grossly underestimated and does not reflect the realistic circumstances.

PETALING JAYA (Sin Chew Daily) -- The poverty rate of Malaysia has reduced from 40% in 1970 to 0.4 % in 2016 according to official statistics.

This has been seen by the government as an impressive achievement in its global success on lowering poverty rate.

Is the official figure consistent with the actual living conditions of people in the street? Are the people actually out of poverty?

According to a field study conducted by Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights, Malaysia's poverty rate has indeed been reduced. However, the country's poverty rate ranges between 16% and 20% instead of 0.4%!

Why the huge disparity between the government's official statistics and Alston's findings? Who is accurate here? What is the yardstick of defining poverty? Is the extremely low rate released by the government on poverty also similar to the extremely low inflation rate released which ends up being rejected by the people? Why do goods prices remain high but the government’s inflation rate is extremely low?

Daim Zainuddin, chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons said Malaysians used to ride bicycles in the olden days but now they either ride motorcycles or drive cars. This proves that our lives have either improved or we are out of poverty.

When people were riding bicycles, they were considered rich when they had 30 sen or 50 sen in their pockets. A cup of black coffee only cost 10 sen, a red bean bun 10 sen, a bowl of wanton noodle soup 20 sen, a piece of roti canai 15 sen, and a plate of fried koay teow between 15 and 30 sen.

Children went to school with 10 sen in the pocket or even no pocket money at all.

Today, they drive to school or ride a motorcycle or take a school bus to school. They would need at least RM10 in their pockets, as a cup of black coffee or black tea is at least RM1.20, a plate of wanton noodle between RM4.50 and RM5.00, fried koay teow RM5, and roti canai RM1.

The drastic increase in food prices also come with smaller portions of food servings. The mixed rice is no longer “economic rice” although some would refer the rice they sell as “economic rice”.

Many natives in East Malaysia and orang asli in West Malaysia are in the category of hardcore poor. Fishermen, farmers, rubber tappers, cleaners, odd job workers are poor too. The government has put them under the B40 category.

Many of them spend more than what they earn. On the other hand, 40% Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contributors earn less than RM2,000 a month and they only have several tens of thousands in their EPF accounts at retirement, which will not be enough to last them for five years after retirement.

Some 76% of Malaysians are unable to come up with RM1,000 during emergencies. The government has set the minimum wage at RM1,100 and millions of Malaysians still need 1Malaysia cash aid or living subsidies. The figures reflect that the 0.4% poverty rate is an underestimate, and the range between 16% and 20% is more realistic.

For someone who is living in cities and towns, he should be able to survive with a monthly salary of RM2,000 if he doesn't have to pay car and housing mortgages or rent a home. However, if he has three to four kids at home and does not earn at least RM4,000 a month, he will still fall under the moonlight category who will have finished spending the paycheck before the end of the month. Do not ever think about buying a house or car. These are evidences why many in the working class are unable to buy a house.

Salary is low while living cost is high in our country. Most fresh graduates do not earn more than RM2,000 a month. If you are caught in the middle, you end up waiting for government to rescue you or your parents to depend on.

After Pakatan Harapan took over the federal administration, the economy has actually gone from bad to worse, with people losing jobs and prices of goods escalateing. The indigenous peoples in East and West Malaysia remain impoverished, so do the fishermen, farmers, cleaners and odd-job workers. They live in slums and the number of bankrupts continue to rise. Many live by taking up two to three jobs, and tens and thousands of Malaysians work in Singapore day and night in order to increase their incomes so as to lead a more decent life.

When people are poor, cases of theft and robbery are rampant. The government may not be aware that farmers are constantly on alert to guard their farms from wild animals and humans from intruding their farms. Even lodging a police report proves to be a futile exercise.

People work hard to earn their living and often do so at the expense of their quality of life. Enjoying life is the last thing on their mind.

These are the facts that the government officials sitting in air-conditioned offices will never know. Instead, they are proud to declare to the world that there are no more poor people in this country!

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