Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Subsidy cuts force Sabah’s poor to miss meals

KENINGAU: The rise in the prices of fuel and other necessities is pushing thousands of already poor Sabahans into the abyss of abject poverty. As families struggle to keep alive, the education of children loses its importance.

This grim reality was borne out by a recent survey that Sabah DAP conducted in the interior regions of the state. It found that many families could no longer afford two square meals a day or to send
their ailing members to hospital and their children to school.

The Najib administration’s decision to cut fuel subsidies has caused transport costs to rise and therefore the prices of essential food items like flour, rice and sugar. Even without the higher fuel
prices, some of these essentials were already expensive because the subsidies for them had been cut too.

“We urge the government to review the increase in prices of petrol, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas,” said Dr Benjamin Yapp, who heads Sabah DAP’s Interior Mobile Service.

“The price hikes have adversely affected consumers in the rural and interior areas.

“These people have to depend on public transport to travel from their remote villages to the rural sub-districts and townships on a regular basis to attend to their daily needs and in search of money to buy food and other provisions for their families.

“Schooling children are badly affected as their poor parents cannot afford to pay for bus fares.

“Some families are unable to have two decent meals a day.”

Sick folks hard hit

The high cost of fuel, he added, had also made hospital visits impossible for the elderly and the ailing.

“Transport has become expensive in the rural areas. Fares have shot up and there is deep fear here that with the reduction of fuel subsidies there will be increases in fuel prices every six months,” said Yapp.

“Already many of the sick and ageing folks cannot afford to pay for the higher fares needed to take them to the nearest rural clinics and hospitals for medical treatment.

“Farmers are also complaining as the fuel price increase has also raised the cost of car maintenance, accessories, spare parts and services.

“The roads in the interior and rural kampungs are bad and vehicles are high maintenance.”

Yapp also said many businesses in the rural area had been forced to close down because the costs of transport, materials and labour had gone up.

“Everyone is feeling the pinch, and the situation is not getting better.”

According to a November World Bank Report, Sabah is the poorest state in Malaysia, but Chief Minister Musa Aman’s administration has vehemently denied that this is so.

Poorest state

Last month, Musa claimed that his government had reduced the “number of poorest families” by more than two-thirds in less than a year by teaching villagers to be self-sufficient through agriculture, aquaculture and cottage industries.

He said the number of poor families had fallen from slightly more than 44,000 a year ago to 24,247 at the end of November.

Emmanuel Jimenez, the World Bank’s director of human development for East Asia and the Pacific, acknowledged that the state had made efforts that had “somewhat lessened” poverty. But he said more needed to be done.

Others, however, have scoffed at Musa’s statement saying the World Bank report also had noted that Sabah was “expected to stay in that position (as poorest state) for quite a while” because the state’s
economic planning did not promote “inclusive growth”.

A former vice-chairman of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, Simon Sipaun, told FMT last month that the standard formula used by the Economic Planning Unit was not feasible for Sabah because it did not take into account the thousands of illegal immigrants in the state.