A UN human rights expert yesterday disputed Malaysia’s assertion that it has nearly eliminated poverty, saying that official figures were vastly inaccurate and do not reflect realities on the ground.
Malaysia’s official poverty rate dropped from 49 percent in 1970 to just 0.4 percent in 2016.
However, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston said that the numbers relied on outdated measures, with the poverty line remaining at the same level for decades, despite increasing costs of living.
Analyses done by independent groups suggest that Malaysia has “significant poverty” and that its true poverty rate was about 15 percent, Alston said.
“The government’s official figures would make it the world champion in eliminating poverty ... but I think it’s pretty obvious that that’s not the case,” Alston told a news conference at the end of an 11-day visit to Malaysia.
The Malaysian prime minister’s office and Ministry of Finance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Alston said that the national poverty line of 980 ringgit (US$234) per household per month was “ridiculous,” as it would mean an urban family of four would have to survive on 8 ringgit per person per day.
“It can’t be done except under really dire circumstances,” he said.
Undercounting the poverty rate has led to a lack of effective government policies targeting the problem, with too many underfunded and ineffective programs in place, Alston said.
He urged Malaysia to reassess its methods for measuring poverty and take into account vulnerable groups excluded from the data such as stateless families, migrant workers and refugees.
“Only then can Malaysia begin devising policies that can systematically address their needs,” he said.
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