UN findings on poverty inaccurate

KUCHING: Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing said the findings by a United Nations (UN) analysis on poverty in Sarawak, and later quoted as the source by local analysis in the state, is inaccurate.

He said if the methodology used and the ability of the researchers including the respondents are of wrong or of lesser quality, then the findings will be flawed at best and wrong at worst.

“It will be rubbish in and rubbish out,” he told New Sarawak Tribune here yesterday.

According to Masing, who is Infrastructure and Ports Development Minister, in analysing poverty among rural population in Sarawak, one must understand that rural population depended on subsistence economy. He said for example, their NCR land holdings could not be (yet) translated to money, thus a big chunk of what they own could not be monetised.

“Thus, judging their wellbeing via monetary income will give researchers wrong findings,” he said.

Masing said creating accessibility to their NCR land holdings would be the key to unlocking the rural poverty trap. Hence, he said funds to develop rural infrastructure were critical to Sarawak.

Masing had recently said poverty in the state could only be tackled or reduced when there was road accessibility to remote areas. He said this priority was not taken seriously by the federal government as the state’s oil and gas assets were taken from the state, adding that was why Sarawak had no funds to build its infrastructure.

“Most of the funds from our oil and gas were taken by Malaya to develop infrastructure there, that is why Sarawak is left behind.”

Masing said Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg knew very well the state had been deprived of its assets, so he wanted the oil and gas money to be returned to Sarawak to develop the state’s infrastructure such as roads, water, and electricity supply. 

Masing, however, said it would take time, adding, “Rome was not built in one day.”

A local human rights group, Society for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of Sarawak (Scrips), said it had identified several reasons why Sarawak had a high population of poor families, even though the state was the richest in natural resources in the country. It said there was a lot of truth behind the latest United Nations report that said Sarawak had a high poverty rate.

Scrips secretary-general Michael Jok told a national paper that the organisation had carried out ground analysis over the years in Sarawak concerning poverty and human rights issues.

Jok said Scrips had analysed the situation on the ground as accurately as possible, and categorised the reasons into three main categories.

“Firstly, there are bad policies that deny the interests of the majority in Sarawak, in favour of a
powerful few and their cronies.

“Secondly, there are politics involved where certain politicians in power use poverty as a divide-and-rule tactic.

“Thirdly, there are many social woes such as a lack of education and poor discipline among the communities that engulf them in the cycle of poverty.”

He was commenting on the latest United Nations report on extreme poverty and human rights issues that said the percentage of low-income earners in Sarawak was higher than the national average.

The UN report was compiled by Professor Philip Alston, who is the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Issues.

“At the national level, 8.8 percent of households in Malaysia have a monthly income of less than RM2,000.

“The situation is more dire in certain states,” the report read, also pointing out that in Sarawak, 15.5 percent of households had a total family monthly income of less than RM2,000.