Saturday, December 4, 2010
KOTA KINABALU: The poor in Sabah may have just got a little poorer following the nationwide hike in petrol and sugar prices. But the state government is in denial and claims that "all is well."
Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president Yong Teck Lee, however, is demanding that the government “show us the real numbers” to substantiate its claims that poverty is not a serious problem in Sabah.
Yong said that if the government used real facts and figures ,the truth would be out.
“Chief Minister (Musa Aman), like other ministers recently, again cited the so-called e-Kasih data to put the number of hardcore poor household heads (KIRMT) at only 7,455.
“In fact, on the ground, 'e-Kasih' has already been discredited as being 'p-Kasih' meaning 'pilih kasih' (favouritism) because e-Kasih involves cash handouts to selected persons.
"Not all poor people are registered under e-Kasih. Any grassroots leader who walks around a poor village will come across many hardcore poor villagers who say they have been excluded from the e-Kasih programme,” said Yong, a former chief minister.
He also questioned the validity of Musa’s recent statement that the number of poor families in Sabah is 24,247.
Musa's disclosure was in striking contrast with a World Bank report on poverty in Malaysia, which stated that 40% of the nation’s poor lived in Sabah. Sabah, the report noted, was the poorest state in the country.
“According to the Federal Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry (Noh Omar) recently, 150,000 families in Malaysia received rice subsidy coupons worth RM10 each every month. Obviously, these are poor families.
“If 40% of these families are in Sabah, it gives us a figure of 60,000 such families. Even if the figures by Noh or the World Bank are not 100% accurate, the figure is way above 24,247.
"The Ninth Malaysia Plan mid-term report by the federal Economic Planning Unit listed Sabah as the poorest state, with a 23% poverty level, the highest in Malaysia. These are hard facts,” he said.
Yong said that Musa and his ministers should stop making baseless claims that poverty in Sabah is not as bad as it really is.
He urged the relevant authorities to make public the latest data used to calculate the poverty line by which a family is classified as poor, in view of the increase in cost of living in Sabah.
“What is the poverty line income for a family of five in the rural and urban areas? Has this poverty line taken into consideration the latest increases in prices of basic necessities?
“Every villager knows that the costs of goods and transport have gone up repeatedly in the last two years, starting with the drastic fuel increases in June 2008,” he said.
"In some remote regions like Banggi, the so-called fuel subsidy scheme to transport rice, sugar and other necessities to keep prices low has collapsed when the budget for fuel was exhausted last month.
"Even the 20-sen plastic tubes of cooking oil, sugar and other basic necessities in Sandakan villages have shrunk in size.
“The lack of teachers and doctors, piped water and housing, and problems of the landless and infant mortality rate, compound the misery faced by the poor in Sabah,” he said.
Yong said that unlike in many countries and societies where education has helped pluck poor family out of the poverty cycle, the education system in Malaysia had failed the younger generation by producing many illiterate school leavers with little skills.
“In the past, families at least had their children who earned some income to sustain the families.
“The over-reliance on foreign workers has aggravated manpower planning and low productivity in the workforce.
"These are the issues that the World Bank had identified but the BN politicians have chosen to brush aside these inconvenient truths,” he said.
He added that the state government, instead of going into denial and finding excuses for poverty in the state, should be expediting poverty reduction programmes.
The BN state government, he said, should demand more aid and favourable policies from the federal government "to spur economic growth, reduce costs of doing business in Sabah, assist local workers and alleviate youth unemployment”.