Time to relook urban poverty policies

Charities are best for short-term aids but promoting entrepreneurial skills would help lift in the long term


IT IS time for Malaysia to re-examine the policies to address the growing urban poverty issue, instead of working in silo, said Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) Hon orary Prof Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (picture).

“Do you know that in Malaysia, we don’t have interagency cooperation; you go to a family, you see this person is poor, you look at welfare, then you want to look at education, you might have a drug case, you might have a prison case, this multidimensional is not taking place,” Denison said during his presentation in the “Re-examining Urban Poverty” webinar recently.

Although there is a ministry for rural poverty, housing and local government, he said a specific ministry for urban poverty is yet to be available to tackle the issue.

He also believes that there is a need for a stronger decentralisation and a more bottom-up approach.

“Unfortunately, in Malaysia, we have a very centralised approach from Putrajaya because constitutional provisions have the role of federal agencies, state agencies and local authorities, which is mandated by Constitution and law, to the parameters of what they can and cannot do. What it means is a strong multi-stakeholder engagement process where they work together,” Denison explained.

One of the examples of a decentralised approach for urban poverty can be seen in other South-East Asian countries.

“In other countries, I think Indonesia has developed quite a bit of that. In this way, they have strengthened the rural democracy and allocated the budget. Thailand has done that. In the Philippines, there’s absence of government at the community level. People organise themselves; they join up with their funds, savings and so forth,” Denison explained.

On the other hand, Centre for Market Education CEO Dr Carmelo Ferlito is sceptical for agencies to be involved in managing urban poverty.

“If one agency alone struggles to find proper solutions in the field, I find it even more difficult for more agencies to coordinate their roles.

“What is happening in reality, the way in which central agencies work is as such by nature, that they cannot keep pace with the dynamic nature of processes,” he said.

He feels that decentralisation should be recommended on the lower institutional level.

At the same time, agencies and institutions should promote a proper institutional framework that allows for responses to emerge from the reality from the communities.

“I think there is a role that can be played by members of the community. That’s an example and in business, there are entrepreneurs using entrepreneurial skills or resources to create and elaborate community responses to that,” Ferlito explained.

Charities, whether big or small, are best for short-term aids, but promoting entrepreneurial skills would help lift communities in poverty in the long term.

“We remain in the terms of solving temporary problems that need to be addressed, but they need to be accompanied with something that is in the long term.

“So, if it was me, rather than giving half my wealth, if I was so rich, I will develop an entrepreneurial initiative that would, for example, give jobs to people that are in difficulties,” he explained.

Centre for Poverty and Development Studies former director Prof Dr Fatimah Kari said although poverty is a very complex and complicated concept, it is important to measure the poverty line correctly.

“Since the last 44 years, we have been revising our poverty line for almost three times. But this is where the problem is. If you don’t measure it right, therefore, the concepts that come out of how we define poverty will not be right,” she said.

Even after revising the poverty line many times, one can still find rampant poverty in every part of the country. Urban poverty is no exception too.

Identifying poverty is not an easy task. There were many methods that the government used to identify poverty such as income-based poverty rate and SDG (sustainable development goal)-based Multidimensional Index, but Fatimah felt these measurements have limitations.

However, the Deprivation Index is the best choice for measuring poverty.

“You talk about deprivation among the households. The method is much more flexible. It reflects wellbeing. In fact, the ability to help in the monitoring evaluation programme. And it does reflect the intensity, the incident and depth of poverty. I welcome the move by the government to use it.”