Category: Poverty

Sarawak: Poverty and opulence

There are two opposite extremes in Sarawak that are worlds apart.

First, an example of the harsh reality that faces the marginalised:

Hishamuddin’s aide falls into Sarawakian marsh
November 21, 2010

KUCHING, Nov 21 — Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein was today shocked to see his special officer Datuk Firdaus Ismail fall into a marsh when a wooden bridge leading to the dilapidated home of an elderly villager in Kampung Gersik, here, collapsed. (From a Bernama report in Malaysian Insider)



PBAPP: Water surcharge; bottled water

The Penang Water Authority (PBAPP), the most efficient water authority in the country, has decided to impose a ‘conservation’ surcharge of 24 sen per 1,000 liters on domestic consumers using more than 35,000 litres of water per month.

First let me say, the publicly owned PBA has done a brilliant job in keeping non-revenue water low at around 19 per cent. Its efficient management has put private water utility firms elsewhere in the country to shame. Despite low water tariffs, its efficiency has allowed it to make a profit before tax of RM16 million for 2009 (RM28 million in 2008) on the back of RM185 million (RM188 million in 2008).

And yes, there is a pressing need to conserve water as consumption per capita in Penang is higher than acceptable. The surcharge-free 35,000-litre threshold is based on the basic needs of a household of five. This move could curb wastage but a few critics have contended that such a surcharge could burden low-income households with large families. Conversely, excessive consumers in smaller households will be spared the surcharge. What are your views on this? Perhaps large low-income households could be exempted from the surcharge or the threshold for exemption could be raised for such households? (more…)


Will subsidy cuts hurt the poor?

Apart from worrying about the effects of cuts in subsidies, the lower-income group and even the middle-class are feeling the effects of a sharp rise in fruit and vegetable prices, especially over the last quarter.

While Najib waxes eloquent about the New Economic Model, low-income Malaysians are struggling to balance their budgets. Fruit and vegetables that used to cost RM60 a few months ago now cost around RM90. If you paid RM25 for a basket of vegetables a few months ago, you probably would have to fork out around RM45 now.

Of course, Cabinet Ministers won’t feel the pinch from higher food prices and cuts in subsidies. But ordinary workers will, as their wages struggle to keep pace with the rising cost of living. (As an aside, we desperately need a move towards organic agriculture to make us more self-sufficient in healthy pesticide-free natural food.)

Here’s something I wrote for IPS:

The government’s proposal to remove and rationalise subsidies on essential goods and services continues to provoke a storm of criticism from ordinary Malaysians. (more…)


Is Najib’s New Economic Model the answer?

What do you think of Najib’s New Economic Model? It has taken such a long time for the administration to realise that the present low-wage export-oriented model is not working.

The need for a new economic model was pointed out in this blog back in October 2008:

One of the larger issues that arises in the face of the global economic slowdown and recession is that the foreign investor-driven, export-oriented economic growth model is clearly not working, especially in times like this when global demand has shrunk. With global stagflation or recession staring at us, capacity is rising and the trickle of foreign investors is drying up.

We should be focusing more on building up a strong, resilient, sustainable domestic economy by providing basic services (housing, health care, food security, public transport, education) rather than relying on foreign investors and now, foreign retirees.

Is Najib’s new model the solution? There are some encouraging bits in it such as the focus on the bottom 40 per cent of the population and the need to improve skills in the workforce.



Affordable housing in Penang: Whither PDC?

The Penang Development Corporation (PDC) – and even municipal councils – once used to play an admirable role in providing Penangites with affordable housing.

Goh Ban Lee recalls in this piece for Seri’s Penang Eonomic Monthly (August 2009) that:

The issue of shortage of housing for the poor in Penang is puzzling. As early as in 1950s, even before the country achieved independence from Britain, there were efforts by the government to help the lower income groups to have adequate shelter.

More specifically, George Town’s Municipal Council which eventually evolved into the Penang Island Municipal Council of today began building quarters for its lower paid workers as early as 1946. Two years later, it also built low-cost houses for sale to the public at $2,775 each (Penang – Past and Present, 1966:86). It then went on to build many housing units to be rented to the poor, such as those in Trengganu Road and Cintra Street. After almost half a century, these are still among the most sought-after housing units for the lower income groups.

The Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) and its predecessor also built low-cost housing units to be sold to the poor. For instance, in 1959 the Butterworth Town Council built low-cost houses in Jalan Mohd Saad costing between $5,000 and $12,000 each.

The Penang State Government has also been building low-cost houses for the poor. They include those in Kampung Melayu, Nordin Street Ghaut, Riffle Range, Kedah Road and recently, in cooperation with the federal government and MPPP, in the Lines Road area.