Poverty

One of the biggest issues in the forthcoming Sarawak election is the level of income distribution, inequality and poverty in the state, or more specifically how many people have been left behind or totally left out in this resource-rich state.

BN propaganda inevitably touches on how the official poverty rate in Sarawak has purportedly plunged during the Taib years to only around 5 per cent now. Take for example this piece in the BN’s SarawakReports.org:

In the mid-1980s, Chief Minister Taib faced a Sarawak where nearly 32% of its population lived in poverty, a shocking statistic to anyone living in the Western world. In three decades of democratic leadership, Taib has helped pull his citizens out of the depths of destitution. Now only 5.3% of Sarawakians live in poverty. For comparison, that is less then half the amount of Americans who live below the poverty line, a startling feat.

Less than half the US poverty rate? Betulkah? That is indeed startling! This assertion is repeated over and over again in sarawakreports.org. But then, what about that inconvenient truth – all those natives living without proper water and electricity supply and latrine facilities?

President Obama has had to face up to memories of the US-backed repression in Central America during a visit that coincided with the anniversary of the assassination of the legendary Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, on 24 March 1980.

Protesters in El Salvador also demanded that Obama rework or scrap the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which has crippled agriculture in the country.

The other day, I was at the ATM when I noticed a middle-aged couple in front of me in the queue. They tried a few times to withdraw funds. As I waited a few minutes, I overheard them saying they were trying to withdraw RM20, but the machine responded “insufficient funds”. They looked stressed and worried.

All is not well among Malaysians. The level of household debt has been rising over the years at the rate of 11.1 per cent annually.

Few Malaysians may have heard of him but that in no way takes anything away from the towering stature of the legendary Penan leader, Along Sega, who passed away on 2 February 2011.

Along Sega and his grandson, perched on a tree stump, witnessing logging activities - Photo courtesy of Ngo/Greenpeace

He was an outspoken leader of the Penan’s struggle against the timber firms that encroached into native customary rights lands from the 1980s.

Who is responsible for Taib Mahmud’s worst nightmare? Clare Rewcastle Brown, sister-in-law of Gordon Brown, and Peter John Jaban aka ‘Papa Orang Utan’, the grandson of a Dayak headhunter, are the driving force behind the mysterious Radio Free Sarawak.

Clare and Papa - Photo credit: London Evening Standard
The report in the London Evening Standard

Clare, a former BBC investigative journalist, is also the author of the Sarawak Report website.

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