Thursday, January 04, 2018

Mark Twain’s quote, “there are lies, damned lies and statistics” best describes Information and Communications Minister Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak boasting of Malaysia having the lowest poverty rates in Southeast Asia

Writing on his blog on Wednesday, 28 December, Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak boasted that the Malaysian economy was in fact very doing very well because our GDP per capita, according to the CIA World Factbook stood at US$27,2000, which was much better than those of neighbouring Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos.

More importantly, he claimed that our poverty rate was the “lowest in South East Asia” at 3.8%. He further added that he was grateful because our poverty rates are “drastically lower” than the poorest countries namely Syria, Madagascar and Zimbabwe with poverty rates above 70%.

Have we really gone so low today that we now need to compare ourselves with the poorest countries in the world today to make ourselves feel good for the new year?  What has happened to the times when we pride 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 Information and Communications Minister can’t even gets his fact 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 did get his “facts” right when compared to Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, the 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, Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak chose to quote the CIA Handbook statistics, instead of the more authoritative World Bank.  If Salleh Keruak were to believe the CIA Handbook statistics, Malaysia should already immediately declare itself a “developed nation”, ahead of the Vision 2020 target.  Does the Minister actually believes 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 Malaysia’s own Department of Statistics, our GDP per capita is only US$9,500, barely a-third of the Minister’s boast!  So why did the Minister decide to quote an unbelievable source and not that of our own Department of Statistics or the World Bank?

Instead of trying to glorify Malaysia’s superiority to countries like war-torn Syria and Zimbabwe, or even the Southeast Asian backwaters of Laos and Cambodia, Dato’ Seri Salleh Keruak 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?  The latter overtook us in 1990 and today, based on World Bank figures, South Korea has a GDP per capita of US$27,500 (2016) which is more than triple that of Malaysia today.

Why have we lost competitiveness to our Asian Tiger peers in the 1980s and are now threading water above countries which are rapidly catching up like Vietnam and Indonesia?  This is the real question which Dato’ Seri Sallleh Keruak and the BN administration must answer, and not continuing to pull the wool over the rakyat’s eyes.
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