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Spotlight on Parliament #1: No poor people in Kuala Lumpur?

Apparently, KL streets are paved with gold. The Minister for Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing, Datuk Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin gleefully announced that the nation’s capital is now “free from hardcore poverty”.

The minister, in a parliamentary answer, claimed that the government’s “Zero Urban Hardcore Poverty Program” had successfully eradicated hardcore poverty in Kuala Lumpur, and there was only one household which was classified as “hardcore poor” as of 31 December 2010.

This glib statistic seems to be rather unbelievable when a walk through Pasar Seni, Petaling Street, or any other downtown KL area will reveal plenty of homeless people sleeping under bridges, begging for food. Are there really no poor people in Kuala Lumpur?

In another parliament reply to a question asked by DAP MP for Bukit Bendera, Liew Chin Tong, the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development (JKM) answered that 4,222 destitute persons were found in Kuala Lumpur from 2000 to May 2010.

The JKM Minister, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, was quick to say that JKM has “saved” 13,816 destitute people within that time period. So what happened to the rest?

One would think that destitute persons fall under the classification of “hardcore poor”, but the government has various definitions for poor people.

“Hardcore poor” (miskin tegar) as defined by Minister Raja Nong Chik, refers only to persons registered under the government’s e-kasih programme. Whereas “destitute persons” (orang papa) are defined by the Destitute Persons Act 1977 as “any idle person found in a public place, whether or not he is begging, who has no visible means of subsistence or place of residence”.

There is also the matter of 1,387 homeless people (orang gelandangan) which Minister Shahrizat refers to in her answer.

So Raja Nong Chik says there are no hardcore poor, but Shahrizat gives us statistics of destitute persons and homeless people. Are they contradicting each other, or do the ministries not share information?

Not only does it fly in the face of logic to say that there are no hardcore poor in a city but there may be destitute and homeless there, it is a complete insult to one’s intellect! The bigger question is, what is the government doing to help these people in need, other than trumpeting dubious statistics? –The Rocket