PETALING JAYA – The National Patriots Association (Patriot) today hit out at Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali for his quick denial of a United Nations expert’s claim that Malaysia has understated the extent of its poverty.
Instead of dismissing it as “baseless”, Patriot said Azmin should have asked his officers to reassess the statistics and the basis of the poverty line calculation.
On Friday, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston disputed Malaysia’s assertion that it has nearly eliminated poverty, saying that official figures were inaccurate and did not reflect realities on the ground.
Following an 11-day visit to Malaysia, Alston noted, among others, the dire need for the country to re-evaluate its national poverty line of RM980 per month (or RM 8 per day) for a family of four.
He also called on the authorities to devise a poverty-alleviating framework that took into account the needs of marginalised communities such as migrant workers, refugees, stateless people and the disabled.
In a statement today, Patriot president Arshad Raji said the denial syndrome of government officials, when suddenly caught with a blunder, must stop.
“Common sense will tell that a family of four will find it impossible to survive with a meagre income of RM980 a month in the Klang Valley,” he said.
The minimum wage must go up, says MTUC
In a separate statement, Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) said the government must study the effect of low wages as they were directly tied to poverty rates.
Its secretary-general, J Solomon, said the current minimum wage of RM1,100 a month should be raised as it was not consistent with prevailing living conditions.
He welcomed Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s assurance the government would look into the poverty rate, adding that it should not pretend that everything was normal when millions were struggling to have a decent living.
Solomon said Alston’s findings were in line with MTUC’s stand that the government had not been using the real factors on the ground to assess actual poverty.
“It is way off tangent. If the difference is 1% or 2% from the 0.4% government poverty line, then the stand of the government is acceptable, but the UN findings are 15% to 20%.
“That means at least around five million workers are earning below the poverty line,” he said.
On Azmin’s response, Solomon noted that the handbook showing the government’s figure of 0.4% poverty rate was issued in 2011 and not credible.