Sabah, the poorest
By Joe Fernandez
KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s poverty rate is not shown in the 10th Malaysia Plan (2011-2015) unlike the previous plan which acknowledged that the state was among the most economically backward in the country. The Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006-2010) even had an index to show how the poverty rate was calculated.
Visiting Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Professor Junaenah Sulehan made these startling disclosure here recently. She was commenting on a World Bank report earlier this month which had confirmed that Sabah was the poorest state in the country.
“The Ninth Plan registered Sabah’s poverty at 23% which is high compared with other states,” said Junaenah. “It’s not just Sabah. There are other poor states as well including Sarawak where I come from.”
She said poverty can be measured by two tools: one based on income and the other on aspects like nutrition, health, security and other indicators. The first tool, income, is difficult to apply in the rural areas since many people don’t have a monthly income, she added. “So, whatever the rural people produce for their food is counted as income.”
Junaenah attributed poverty in Sabah and Sarawak to geographical and distance factors or what economists call a structural problem, among others.
She said that there were many isolated communities which are cut of from the rest of the world and travel is only possible by foot or boat.
Also, there are other problems like inadequate political institutions, lack of co-operation and coordination among government agencies and the problem of duplication. “In the end, nothing trickles down to the grassroots,” she said. “Every department waits for the other to act.”
Abyss of poverty
The professor points out that since those categorised as poor are mostly rural women, something has to be done for them. The answer lies in participation and empowerment, according to her, to get them out of the abyss of poverty.
The professor’s remarks have struck a chord with leaders across both sides of the political divide in the state.
Kundasang state assemblyman Joachim Gunsalam conceded that his constituency has a high poverty rate. Among the contributing factors, he cited the lack of basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water as well as electricity supply and the distance from government service centres.
“Barisan Nasional (BN) lost in this area in the 11th general election and won by only four votes the last time,” said Gunasalam who expressed misgivings about his chances in the constituency at the next general election. “The opposition is telling the people that the BN only gave projects to its cronies.”
Pantai Manis state assemblyman Abdul Rahim Ismail remains pessimistic that Sabah can go forward unless the state government takes serious measures to revamp the economy and step up efforts to bring down the poverty level.
“The state’s allocation of RM162.12 million to change the fate of the hardcore poor and the poor in the rural areas is very small,” he said.
He lamented that Petronas had contributed to the poverty rate in Sabah by declaring 240sq km covering Kimanis Bay, Bongawan and Papar as an exclusive zone for the oil and gas terminal project in Kimanis. This has affected hundreds of coastal fishermen who are already listed in the poor category.
“I would like to know whether Petronas plans to give any cash assistance to the fishermen whose livelihood has been affected by the Kimanis terminal project,” said Abdul Rahim.
Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) state assemblywoman for Luyang, Melanie Chia, wonders what has happened to all the federal and state government allocations all these years for poverty eradication programmes.
“It’s claimed that millions have been spent over the years but the people who are supposed to benefit from these programmes remain poor,” she said. “Giving out money during elections and by-elections cannot cover up the true situation on the ground.”
The state government has listed 11,956 hardcore poor households in the state and a further 20,046 poor households up to Nov 9 this year, according to figures released by the state rural development ministry.