Poverty: Sabah’s inconvenient truth

By Queville To, Free Malaysia Today

KOTA KINABALU: Debating the question of how much poverty exist in Sabah is as pointless as the government’s attempt to “cover up” an “inconvenient truth”, says Tawau MP Chua Soon Bui.

The now globally known fact which has left the Sabah government reeling in embarrasment is continuing to split leaders along party lines.

While the government “shamelessly” glosses over the “actual’ extent of poverty, the opposition is lashing back and calling them liars.

“What’s the point of trying to deny it (poverty) or covering up the ‘inconvenient truth’ about the high poverty rate in the state?” asked Chua.

“They (government) can use statistics (to cover up) if they want but they certainly cannot hide the faces of the people suffering.”

Chua, who is also the vice-president of the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), argued that Chief Minister Musa Aman’s government should look seriously into the plight of the poor, especially those in genuine need and deserving help instead of attempting to sweep the problem under the carpet.

She was speaking in response to a written reply from the Prime Minister’s Department in Parliament for comprehensive figures on the poverty rate in Sabah.

Chua said it was evident from the reply that the number of poor families in Sabah in 2009 was high.

“The poverty rate, especially in Sandakan, is 13.4%, in Tawau it’s 18.5% and many smaller rural towns have a poverty rate of well above 20%. This is high.

“And what is worrying is that despite the huge amount of funds given through various agencies, the poverty situation between 2007 and 2009 had not changed.

“In fact, it has worsened in Sandakan (5.7% increase over two years), Tawau (7.5% increase) and many rural towns,” she said.

Faulty e-kasih programme

Chua said the World Bank Report had put Sabah down as the “poorest state in Malaysia, with 10% of the Malaysian population but 40% of the national poverty (rate).”

“This clearly reflected the (actual) situation while the state government is saying the opposite.

“The people of Tawau are also confused by Musa’s announcement in August that there were no more hardcore poor families in Tawau and that Tawau is the first district to be out of hardcore poor.

“From the statistics that was published by EPU and GTP, Tawau is clearly still one of the districts with high numbers of hardcore poor families,” she pointed out.

Chua also said the e-Kasih Program, which is used by the government to identify the poor, is clearly faulty.

However, she noted, despite its obvious shortcomings, federal welfare assistance did go to the few poor and needy families who were registered with e-Kasih.

She pointed out that the registration for e-Kasih assistance was mired in red tape and instead of offering immediate relief, stalled aid to the underprivileged.

Chua said the National Data Bank on poverty or the e-Kasih system was only developed and implemented in 2008 and is based on information on income and aid for a 12-month period.

Denied assistance

As such, she said, the incidences of poverty for certain districts for the period before 2008 are not contained in the data bank.

The problem was also highlighted by State Assistant Agriculture and Food Industry Minister, Bobbey Suan.