MP SPEAKS | The quote attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, “there are lies, damned lies and statistics,” best describes Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak boasting of Malaysia having the lowest poverty rates in Southeast Asia.
Writing on his blog on last month, Salleh boasted that the Malaysian economy was in fact very doing very well because our GDP per capita, which according to the CIA World Factbook stood at US$27,200 – much better than those of neighbouring countries Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos.
More importantly, he claimed that our poverty rate was the lowest in the region at 3.8 percent. He further added that he was grateful because our poverty rates are “drastically lower” than the poorest countries in the world, namely Syria, Madagascar and Zimbabwe, with poverty rates above 70 percent.
Have we really gone so low today that we now need to compare ourselves with the poorest countries in the world to make ourselves feel good for the new year?
What happened to the times when we prided ourselves to be among the Asian Tigers, being quoted in the same breath as South Korea, Taiwan and sometimes even Singapore and Hong Kong?
What’s more, the minister can’t even get his facts right, intentionally or otherwise. It appears that he has conveniently erased both Singapore and Brunei – with substantially higher GDPs per capita, at USD77,500 and USD87,800 respectively – off the map of Southeast Asia.
And even when he does get his “facts” right when comparing Malaysia to Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Philippines and Myanmar, he also conveniently forgets to convey the fact that our neighbours have been enjoying significantly higher growth rates in the recent years.
Curiously, however, Salleh chose to quote the CIA World Factbook statistics, instead of the more authoritative World Bank. If Salleh were to believe the World Factbook statistics, Malaysia should already immediately declare itself a “developed nation,” ahead of the Vision 2020 target. Does the minister actually believe that the average monthly income of Malaysians today is in excess of RM9,000?
A check with the World Bank Report – which is consistent with the information from our very own Statistics Department – our GDP per capita is only US$9,500, barely a third of what the minister boasted. So why did he decide to quote a less reliable source, and not that of the World Bank, or our own Statistics Department?
Instead of trying to glorify Malaysia’s superiority to countries like war-torn Syria and Zimbabwe, or even the Southeast Asian relative “backwaters” of Laos and Cambodia, Salleh should instead explain why Malaysia has fallen so far behind countries like South Korea and Taiwan.
In 1966, 10 years after achieving independence, Malaysia’s GDP per capita was triple that of South Korea’s. The latter overtook us in 1990, and today, based on World Bank figures, the country has a GDP per capita of US$27,500 (2016), which is more than triple that of ours.
Why have we lost competitiveness to our Asian Tiger peers of the 1980s, and are now treading water above countries which are rapidly catching up like Vietnam and Indonesia?
This is the real question which Salleh and the BN administration must answer, not continuing to pull the wool over the rakyat’s eyes.
TONY PUA is Petaling Jaya Utara MP and DAP national publicity secretary.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.