World Bank: Sabah is Malaysia’s poorest state

By Joe Fernandez

NEWS FOCUS KOTA KINABALU – The World Bank (WB) in Washington has confirmed through a new study that Sabah is not only the poorest state in Malaysia but it’s likely to stay that way for a considerable length of time given current efforts in poverty eradication.

The bottomline was that Malaysia’s economic planning in Sabah so far has not been for inclusive growth.

The study contained in the World Bank’s 2010 Malaysia Economic Monitor (MEM), the third in its series, was handed over last night to the state government by WB representative Emmanuel Jimenez, also Human Development Sector Director (East Asia and Pacific Region).

“Although efforts by the Government have somewhat brought down the poverty rate, it’s still not enough,” said Jimenez. “The MEM shows that Sabahans continue to struggle to make ends meet. This is more evident in the outskirts of the towns.”

Sabah is far behind other states

According to Jimenez, the deep levels of poverty in Sabah could be seen from the fact that although the state has only 10 per cent of Malaysia’s population, it has 40 per cent of the poverty. In contrast, Selangor which has nearly a quarter of the country’s population has less than 10 per cent of the poor.

The WB has also identified that most of the poor can be found in the rural areas mainly among the Rungus in the north and Orang Sungai in the east, both Kadazandusun groups; and the Suluks in the east who are a Muslim group from the Philippines from the days of the Sulu Sultanate. There are also poor among all other communities including in the urban areas among the Chinese.

Nasrun, in his comments, praised the WB for accurately identifying poverty and regional disparity as the main critical issues concerning Sabah. He disclosed that the MEM was put together with input from Sabah which was visited by a WB team several months ago.

“We are fortunate to have access to the WB’s vast expertise in addressing issues of poverty, regional disparity and inclusive growth,” said Nasrun. “They can advise us in taking a holistic approach towards addressing these challenges.”

He lamented that if compared with the states in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah is very much far behind in both hard and soft infrastructure.

A fact to be accepted with an “open heart” for change

Some of the areas of deep concern, he added, were health, education, social facilities and services and human resource development. “Deep pockets of poverty exist in certain socio-economic groups as well as in certain areas of the state where the poor have the least access to services and employment opportunities.”

On a brighter note, Nasrun hopes that the principle of inclusiveness as spelt out in the New Economic Model will bring relief to Sabah. He particularly cited the National Economic Transformation Programme (NETP) and the National Key Result Areas (NKRA) which had pledged improvements in the supply of water and electricity and rural roads, among others.

Ranau MP Siringan Gubat wasn’t surprised that Sabah has been listed as the poorest state. It should be accepted with “an open heart although it’s bitter pill to swallow”, he admitted.

He feels that the federal government should in turn “open its eyes” and accept the fact that it needs to change according to what the people want.

“At present, the federal government is merely using Sabah as an economic resource,” said Gubat who is also United PasokMomogun KadazanDusunMurut Organisation (Upko) vice president.

“If the federal government goes in the same direction as the state government, there’s no reason why Sabah cannot progress and prosper.”

Vast amount of resources, but still poorest

Besides considerable oil and gas reserves, Sabah also has vast areas under timber, oil palm, rubber, cocoa and other commodities. He wants to know where these commodities are sent to and who actually benefits from them ‘since it doesn’t seem to be the people”.

Kota Kinabalu-based social activist, human rights lawyer and newspaper columnist Nilakrisna Isnarti James commented that Sabah’s current status was the very fear that drove her grandfather and famed Kadazan nationalist O.K.K. Sedomon Gunsanad  (1894-1996) of Keningau to oppose the idea of the state agreeing to help form the new federation of Malaysia. James Ongkili recorded this fact in his book on the formation of Malaysia, she added.

“If Malaysia was formed in equality and partnership between Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, why is that we are the poorest after almost 50 years? she asked rhetorically. “On top of that we are being increasingly disenfranchised and may end as internally displaced persons or refugees in our own land.”

She called upon the federal government to demonstrate sincerity and pledge itself towards greater equity in dealing with the rich resources of Sabah and addressing the welfare and concerns of the people.

“The WB report confirms what we have been saying all along,” said Common Interest Group Malaysia (CigMA) deputy chair Daniel John Jambun. “The poverty rate in Sabah and Sarawak is not as low as that made out to be by the federal government. The evidence is all around us.”

He intends to propose that CigMA, an ad hoc apolitical movement, call for a workshop soon to debate the WB report in Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. – MM

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