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Sakmongkol ak 47

Sunday 28 September 2008

The Malaysian Poor.

counting the poor.

The UN defines the hardcore poor as those earning USD1 per day or RM3.40 per day. Or in terms of a monthly income, the poorest earn RM100 per month. The UN figures of course take into account the very poor of the world’s inhabitants. Those who live in places in sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh and many 3rd world countries.

We are lucky Malaysia is out of this definition. Malaysia has its own measure of dirt poor. These are the people who earn less than a certain level income defined by the government as the poverty line income or PLI. The dirt poor or in Malaysiaspeake, the miskin tegar or PPRT are those that earn only a portion of what the ordinary poor earns.

So the PLI is an income level of the normal poor or ordinary poor. it is not an income level of the abject or dirt poor yet. We are coming to that shortly.

It is easy to accept this concept. Imagine the normal poor as a person who earns RM1000 per month. RM1000 is therefore the PLI. A dirt poor person is one who earns a certain portion of this PLI per month. Using this concept, the government recognises that different set of people require different set of policies.

The dirt poor are those who are not able nor capable of earning RM1000 per month. They include old and sick people, single mothers, the infirmed, the incapacitated and the debilitated. They must be cared for from a social fund.

We move now from generalities to specifics. The normal poor are those that fall into the category of earners of a monthly income as defined by the PLI. We have already established that as the Poverty line Income. For those who are interested in history, the concept of poverty line was first spoken by Winston Churchill.

What’s a PLI?Or rather, what does a PLI represent? This is an income level defined by the government as being sufficient for a family of 4.6 people to sustain themselves by being able to buy a basket of selected food items and to maintain a decent level of living.

Who defines the PLI? Which food items are selected to be representative of what people like? What is the lifestyle that the planners think and imagine those whom they are researching on would like to have?

Certainly sakmongkol suspects not field workers going on the ground identifying the facts. They probably reached the PLI figure based on assumptions and imagination. Sometimes Sakmongkol suspects that PLI is deliberately kept low, to keep the masses there. if a too high an income level is chosen, that might cause rising expectations which could not be easily managed. The poor are just digits after all; to be inserted into reports.

Well ,people are usually opposed to nebulous definition. So the government comes out with a concrete number to reflect the above definition. It is an income of RM529 in peninsula Malaysia and RM690 for East Malaysia.This was the initial PLI.

In 2005, the government revised this figure. They acknowledged the initial figures to be unrealistic. They broke up the PLI into two components. One, being the food PLI( income to buy a representative basket of food) and the other Non Food PLI, which is a portion of the money income used to maintain a certain standard of living. The food PLI for Peninsular Malaysia is RM398, RM503 for Sabah ad RM482 for Sarawak. Those who earn less than tthe food PLIs are categorised as hard core poor. In the peninsular those who earn less than RM400 are dirt poor. So a person earning the level of income defined by the UN is dirt dirt dirt poor.

The Gross PLI for peninsular is now between RM663-RM657) and RM881-RM897 for Sabah and RM753-RM777 for Sarawak.

Now for certain people, the monthly income of the poor is just the price of a Ch√Ęteau Laffite. Probably a small box of the finest cigars. A Moet Chandon perhaps? Or a night out at Morton’s the steak house? And of course to those people who got rich by their ill gotten gains( commissions from the sale of spruced up submarines, refurbished airplanes and dressed up patrol vessels, sale of ECM Libra, monopoly in supply of train carriages, buses etc) POOR is a 4 letter word.

Which makes the government definition of PLI at below RM1000 no longer defensible.

With the price of food items and non food items on the rise, the incomes accepted as PLI, are no longer defensible. Perhaps it is better to make use of a single level of income as a standard measure. Since the differentiation of an urban and rural poor is hardly significant, perhaps it is better to use a single unified level of income. A figure of RM 1200 is more plausible. RM600 to buy food and RM600 to have a decent standard of living.

The very dirt poor are then those earning less than RM600 per month. It will be become obvious that if this income level is used, then many Malays will fall into this category.

It is also praiseworthy of the government to recognise that those who fall into this category are mainly Malays and indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak and most noticeably, the Malaysian Indians.

Let’s hope the government will address their attention to these issues. But please don’t be so pedantic and disdainful by saying that concern for the poor is a characteristic unique only to Barisan Nasional. Even UMNO people are queasy hearing these patting on the back claims.

update: the title was supposed to be 'The Malaysian Poor'.


Anonymous,  28 September 2008 at 13:05  

Standards I set for the Government of the day are pretty high.

Even if there is one suffering citizen, the Government has already failed.

If there are one million suffering citizens, then the Government has failed a million times.

So, exactly how many suffering citizens are there, right now???

So, how many times has the Goverment failed its citizens, while happily pursuing their own self-interests???

Anonymous,  28 September 2008 at 14:48  

Agree with Anon 13.05

BN has failed its people.

After 51 years of BN administration, its citizens are still suffering in this land of plenty.

How come?

Anonymous,  28 September 2008 at 23:46  

Notice that if tragedy strikes, like fire or floods, we'd get all these vips handing over beras, canned food etc. Photo op, I suppose. Ok, I'm being extremely cynical.
It's the daily grind that hardly gets anyone's attention.
Once, a project took me to some kampung in Pahang. There were many boys, teenagers, just hanging out. They are bright kids, good looking but just staring at emptiness. I was horrified to learn that none of them know anything of the computer and the internet or if they do, very little of it. No computer in their school.
Where is the help to get these boys on the information age? A political party surely has the means/resources/network to, say, start a computer class/workshop on the weekends.
Like I said before, when tragedy strikes you can bet on help coming. That's good but isn't it even better if they help invest in the poor's future?
Also, when we talk of poverty, we always think in terms of rural poor.What of the urban poor? Once, past midnight, we had to send some kids back to Cheras. This is the inner city, blocks and blocks of low-cost flats, two-roomed warrens. Hardly any green to be seen, no playground, cars, cars and more cars parked haphazardly.
Imagine living in places like these, cooped up day in day out? It must be like a pressure cooker.


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