By Haji Abdul Jalil Haji Abdul Gani
Notwithstanding the definition of poverty as according to the World Bank Organization and neither, following the Malaysian Government's definition, I have a tendency to form my own opinion on the definition of poverty. Worst still, the definition of poverty becomes so sophisticated when presented by politicians, be it from the government or the oppositions.
I remember in 1960 poverty was unknown to most of us. We were living in a condition that we never even bothered to mention the word "poor". Most of us were used to go to school early in the morning with just 'Kopi O' (black coffee) and 'Goreng Pisang' (banana fritters) or sometimes without anything.
At 10am tea-break, we were given oatmeal (courtesy of the United Nation or British Government) and then, we ran to the nearest river to drink the water. After school, we scoured around the town and villages for empty bottles to sell to the hospital or coffee-shops at 4 cents per bottle. Sometimes we managed to collect 4 or 5 bottles a day and that would be a 15 or 20 cents collection.
By late afternoon, we went to the rubber estate to collect rubber seeds and used them to challenge friends. We also went to other villages to look for better and stronger rubber seeds so that we can defeat others who had inferior quality of rubber seeds. That was one of our favourite games and entertainment.
By the time we got home, we took bath at the nearest river/well or using the water collected from the rains. In the evening, we lighted up the oil lamp and studied for about three hours. In the next morning, we would clean up our nose of the black dust, accumulated as a result of the oil lamp.
It was a very common scenario amongst the general population. Were we poor? We did not think so. We just accepted the condition as a way of life but never for one minute, downgraded ourselves by saying that we were poor. We may not have had the hard cash but my father would go to the natural fish pond and my mother collected 'lemiding' from the surrounding swamps or 'keramak-keramak' from under the house (the wooden house was on stilt).
Decades later, the World Bank Organization told us that what the same people are now doing what we did in 1960 is below the poverty line. People are so busy telling others that they are poor. What I do not understand is where does the poverty line start and end? Can the poverty line be the same for all the countries in the world? Can Sabah (or even Malaysia) be compared to America or England?
There is no single definition of poverty and I shall quote three different definitions of poverty for the purpose of understanding what they really mean:
"Poverty is defined relative to the standards of living in a society at a specific time. People live in poverty when they are denied an income sufficient for their material needs and when these circumstances exclude them from taking part in activities which are an accepted part of daily life in that society."
Scottish Poverty Information Unit
"The most common used way to measure poverty is based on incomes. A person is considered poor if his or her income level falls below some minimum level necessary to meet basic needs. This minimum level is usually called the "poverty line". What is necessary to satisfy basic needs varies across time and societies. Therefore, poverty lines vary in time and place, and each country uses lines which are appropriate to its level of development, societal norms and values."
The World Bank Organization
"There are basically three current definitions of poverty in common usage: absolute poverty, relative poverty and social exclusion. Absolute poverty is defined as the lack of sufficient resources with which to keep body and soul together. Relative poverty defines income or resources in relation to the average. It is concerned with the absence of the material needs to participate fully in accepted daily life.
Social exclusion is a new term used by the Government. The Prime Minister described the social exclusion as "……a shorthand label for what can happen when individuals or areas suffer from a combination of linked problem such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown"."
The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee
If we use the Malaysian government standard, the poverty line income is RM763 per month for a family of 4/5 equals to RM5.80 per person per day (2011). The amount represents the cost of food, clothing, rent (utilities), furniture, medical and health, transport and communication, education and recreation.
In reality, what do we need to stay afloat? We need food to stay alive (basic need), payment for monthly rental if one does not own land or house (basic need), money for electricity and water (basic need) and expenses for educational attainment (future investment). The rest of the so-called theoritical household needs are not daily requirements for survival.
The so-called poverty line that I am approaching at sounds sadistic but bear in mind, we have to be realistic. Poverty is subjective and I am going to interpret it in such a manner that charity begins at home. We have to depend on our own efforts to survive and sustain the cost of survival!
In Sabah, there are actually very few people who can be considered as poor (hard core or absolute poverty). They are only poor when we want to compare them with those who have worked hard to get out of their existing living condition. Those who chose to accept their very own living condition and not making efforts to get out cannot be considered as poor as long as they are fit and healthy. But then again, poverty is either a state of mind or a physical deprivation as a result of acceptance or laziness.
Spiritually speaking, God sent us to this world not to suffer but to taste and experience the sustenance. God has given everything that we need and it is up to us to look for it. If one works hard, one can better one's life but laziness results in deprivation of the worldly pleasure.
The so-called poor beings will continue to remain in their comfort zone and more than often, blame the government for their poverty. In natural fact, there exists the genuine poor that I categorize them as in absolute poverty but those are the result of either natural misfortune or imposed upon them e.g. the OKU or single mothers with many children without proper education and the elderly without children looking after them.
The rest of the so-called poor are simply in the category of "pampered poverty". These are the people who are either simply lazy, accept their misfortunes without making efforts or expect someone or the government to provide them for their livelihood and will blame others for their own misfortunes. This is the group that has enjoyed the benefits provided by the government and deprived the really hard core or the absolute poor of their deserved benefits.
The government has provided a lot of assistance to improve the living standards of the people but unfortunately, the people themselves are very selfish. Their demands are never ending and whenever there is an opportunity to get anything from the government, they will grab anything and will cheat at anything to get the benefits without consideration to those who really need them.
The government has provided developments and infrastructures (some roads may not be in good conditions but then they are still there), look after their health (with hospitals, clinics and mobile clinics), good education and so on but what is lacking is the state of gratefulness and contentment. The ungrateful, discontented and "pampered poor" will also expect the government to feed them, look after them and even to bury them when they die.
The behaviours and attitudes of the "pampered poor" will prevent them from getting out of their own miseries. Just imagine the illegal immigrants (the Filipinos, Bugis, Javanese, Chinese, Pakistanis and many others) came into this country without anything but eventually made their livelihood better than the locals simply because they worked hard.
Just take a closer look at some of the benefits that are provided for by the government to assist the people to improve their livelihood. As far as the government's allocation and welfare programs are concerned, the government has delivered but of course, these programs need to be supported in sincerity and to be re-aligned to reach the deserving parties:
Subsidies, allowances and soft loans for the fishermen, oil palm settlers, farmers, small and medium traders and many others. How many of them have really improved their livelihood and managed to get out of their low income situation? How many licenses that have been awarded to the fishmongers (some even drive Mercedes) who in turn rent them to foreigners?
BR1M: How many people really and truly deserved the BR1M and how many did not disclose their real status just for the sake of getting the RM500.? How many couples getting the money by not declaring their marital status?
PPRT: How many of those people getting the PPRT (Program Perumahan Rakyat Termiskin) houses really deserved to get one? Are those people getting the houses really and truly deserved to be categorized as "Rakyat Termiskin"? Do we categorise the wage earners earning an average of RM1,000-1,500. per month, the Imams bertauliah earning RM2,000 average per month and the YB's right hand men (kuncu-kuncu) as "Rakyat Termiskin"?
Do these people feel proud by declaring themselves as the "Rakyat Termiskin" as long as they get those houses for free and without working hard and deprived the really hard core and absolute poor? Did we not notice that those houses meant for the really poor have been renovated and fixed with Astro and some even rented to others?
Lop-sided infrastructure development: Some roads have been surfaced with asphalt right to the doorstep of certain houses while there are areas where there are no proper roads?
Distribution of Lap-tops: How many lap-tops really reach the people intended under the government's programs? Have we not noticed that the friends, relatives and even wives of the YB's have come into possession of the lap-tops? Some households even get more than one lap-tops?
Are we really in a poor state as loosely put by the oppositions? Many organizations did their research with the so-called data collected to represent the actual situation? Can one or two thousand people interviewed represent the millions of the population?
Sabah may be written off as a poor state by the research organizations and oppositions but in reality, have a look at the whole infrastructure developments throughout the state. Have we not seen the high rise shopping complexes, public and private building, private housings that have fetched at least RM350,000.for a simple terrace house and up to one million for a semi-detached house and not to mention the prices of bungalows? Would developers build such expensive buildings and houses if there are no ready buyers? How many imported vehicles that come out almost every day (Super King, Mercedes, expensive four-wheels etc.?).
Good roads have been constructed to connect all the major towns in Sabah and almost all the smaller towns and villages. There may be some roads that are not properly maintained but money has been spent by the government for the allocations. Hospitals and clinics have been built to care for the health of the people and universities, polytechnics, industrial institutions and schools are almost everywhere. Almost every single population is carrying mobile phones. Karaokes, modern shopping complexes selling expensive branded goods and, the young and old frequent the entertainment centres. Do all these that I have mentioned reflect a poor state?
The people need to be re-educated, their cultures must be transformed to believe in themselves that they have to move on, compete and work harder to better their livelihood and not simply, depending too much on public charity. For the state to be further developed, we need a population that can accept the fact that people who work hard will stop at nothing to improve their lives but the lazy, the easily contented with their current living conditions, the too much dependent on charities and those who talk too much but do little to get themselves out of their miseries will remain static.
Of course, it is also the responsibility of the society to look after the weak, the blind, the sick, the unfortunate and abandoned single mothers with young children, the elders and so on. The successful members of the society will also play great/important roles in supporting the government's never ending welfare programs.
In conclusion, poverty is a state of mind that separates the failures and the successes. The people in general must change their negative behaviours and attitudes. They must stop looking at the little, little things and start competing. Sabahans are not poor, they can help each other to move along and they must continue to believe in the efforts of the government. Some may still be in the low income groups but it is a temporary state of deprivation and given all the government's welfare and development programs, there is no reason why Sabah is seen as a poor state. Sabah is rich and we need to rise to the occasion to support the government's development and modernization plans.
Tun Mahathir once said, "We cannot move forward if one of our legs is chained to the cannon balls". We cannot and must not allow ourselves to be chained by the oppositions' propaganda to say that we are poor and need to reform. We are rich and want to be transformed to a greater height. Great man once said, "When the going gets tough, the tough gets going."
Sabah is not a poor state. It is the oppositions and the incomplete research that give the wrong picture. Sabah is rich in diversity, rich in its multi-cultural outlook, the people are in harmony and the best is Sabah is transforming and blending well with the other counter parts in Malaysia.
Sabahans must unite to support the government under the leadership of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak and the Chief Minister of Sabah, Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Musa Haji Aman. They have shown that they care: Najib'1Malaysia with his evergreen people's heart and complemented by Musa's Halatuju. Together, we can make Sabah a proud state in prosperity and Malaysia a proud nation in perpetuality.