Reform BR1M/Bantuan Sara Hidup To Solve Urban Poverty

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail states that the BR1M / Bantuan Sara Hidup program is a good idea but does not reach its intended target. Reforming this program is important to help solve the serious issue of urban poverty in our country.

Although report after report has highlighted the need to address urban poverty in a holistic, fundamental way, the previous administration have typically opted for piecemeal gestures that do not focus on the structural causes and ramifications of urban poverty.

According to official statistics, Malaysia has been urbanising rapidly since the 1980s, to the point where the urban population comprised over 70 percent of the total population in 2010. Some researchers have also forecasted that by the year 2030, three quarters of Malaysia’s population will be urban.

While this rapid urbanisation has been a direct result of the nation’s industrialisation, it has also exerted enormous costs, chief of which has been rising economic inequality in our cities, not only in terms of income, but also spending.

As cited in the World Bank’s Malaysia Economic Monitor released in 2017, that year’s Household Expenditure Survey indicated a marked unevenness in the composition of household expenditure across income brackets, with households in the lowest-income segments spending close to 40 percent of their expenditure on food, compared to about 25 percent among the highest-income segments.

UNICEF’s study earlier this year also highlighted another worrying finding—alarming rates of malnutrition among urban poor children. Such findings are critical as it indicates the underwhelming care provided, and dearth of opportunities to access, even the most basic of necessities due to financial limitations.

The urban poor are the most vulnerable in this situation as the rising cost of living is also linked to stagnant wages, lack of affordable housing, increase in household debts and lower retirement savings.

Although the government has started to address this by, among others, zero rating the GST (as we wait for the re-introduction of SST), any policy to help the poor should not only be focused on increasing purchasing power alone – although that must also be rigorously pursued. Essentially what impacts the economically and socially marginalised the most is being locked out of a lot of the social capital and infrastructure that are readily available for everyone else.

Social mobility is key to enabling the poor to lift themselves out of poverty and not be stuck in the same cycle of poverty for generations.

In a 2016 study conducted by the Khazanah Research Institute, education is clearly the ‘silver bullet’—the study found that only 33 percent of children of parents with no formal education have tertiary education compared to 92 percent of children born to parents with tertiary education. However, top-down educational policies are not enough, no matter how well thought-out.

A major barrier to educational attainment among the urban poor is the lack of a familial and social support structure usually afforded by the more well-off. Hence, formal schooling for the urban poor should also be accompanied by strengthened support systems, such as my experience with Project Mentari, an after school programme which combined educational assistance with community involvement.

Government programmes can no longer be piecemeal: principally, we need to get the longer term structural policies relating to education and social safety nets right but also enhance other initiatives – such as support for nutrition, health, childcare.

Examples of these include the MyKasih programme administered by the MyKasih Foundation. Emulating Brazil’s successful Bolsa Familia, the programme channels cash transfers to mothers on the condition that their children remain in school. The Bolsa Familia has proven successful in improving not only education, but also health outcomes for Brazil’s poor, as one of the other conditions is that children are vaccinated. Surely, there is scope here for expanding the scale of a programme like MyKasih, and transforming our existing cash transfers (such as Bantuan Sara Hidup, formerly known as BR1M) into a targeted program like theBolsa Familia.

Further to that, the urban poor must also be equipped with skill sets that allow them to gain greater economic opportunities – this is where TVET and entrepreneurship programmes are essential for the longer term.

We need to move on from solving inequality of income to solving inequality of opportunity. Social mobility ultimately is about spreading the opportunity which calls for a more inclusive development policy.

In the long run, we need to place a lot more emphasis on socio-economic policies that help the underprivileged realise their potential in a conducive environment. Of course it important to keep the country on a solid fiscal and monetary footing, but we also need to address the social questions, with policies and programmes that strengthen the people, the very soul of our economy.


Pick your battles or see reforms reverted, Nik Nazmi warns Putrajaya – MalayMail

Article about my thoughts on the wellbeing of the Malays and Bumiputera, as published in Malay Mail.

Published on 09 June 2018, By Emmanuel Santa Maria Chin
KUALA LUMPUR, June 9 — Setiawangsa MP Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad has warned Pakatan Harapan (PH) today to deal smartly to deal with the wellbeing of the Malays and Bumiputera, amid possible backlash against its reform efforts.

In a thread on his Twitter account, the PKR MP said there is an attempt to use race, religion and the royalty issues to divide the country, which may then set the stage for a reversal of the movement for change that culminated a little more than a month ago.

“Pakatan Harapan need to realise that we must also ‘work smart’ when it comes to reform. In the months and years ahead, attempts will be made to bring identity politics to the fore again,” he said.

“These wedge issues will be used to set the stage for a reversal of the movement for change that culminated a little more than a month ago, a reversal of the newfound openness and freedom that we have enjoyed since then, to reduce it to less than what we had before.”
He advised the PH government to pick their battles and be guided and always abide by the nation’s foundational principles.

“These include the precept that Malaysia is both a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, with the separation of powers and a system of checks and balances,” he said.

He added that in the long run, the only way that the majority Malays and Bumiputera can move forward is in a Malaysia that is a diverse democracy.

“The kind of Malaysia that some in Umno and PAS wanted, ethnocentric, exclusive, and where anything goes for the powerful would have been a disaster for our people,” he said.

Nik Nazmi also urged for openness and transparency in the government explaining it is possible for the two traits to exist in a civil society.

He then referred to a backlash similar to the surprise election of Donald Trump in 2016 that was preceded by Barack Obama’s two term victories, and the resulting Brexit memorandum after British stalwarts Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Cameron left office.

Nik Nazmi then tried to pacify the public, saying the people have to realise there is a great deal of work in store for the government to carry out the intended reforms.

He added the government needs to assuage the concerns of the people and uplift them, while working together as a unit.

Let’s Work Smart In New Malaysia

My essay in The Malaysian Insight – June 8, 2018.

Let’s Work Smart In New Malaysia

THERE has been intense debate – in both mainstream and social media – over how far-reaching reform, whether political or economic, should be in a post-14th general election Malaysia.

There are some who argue that we need rapid and drastic change to ensure that the gains made on May 9 are solidified.

Others argue that there is a need for a more gradual pace, especially regarding the so-called “sensitive issues”, i.e. the monarchy, Islam and the special position of Bumiputeras.

Pakatan Harapan was elected based on its promises to correct the abuses of Barisan Nasional, not perpetuate, or worse, intensify them.

Malaysians, at long last, exercised their power to change the government – peacefully and constitutionally.

They will not hesitate to vote PH out if all we can deliver is more of the same old “business as usual” under BN.

This includes not only failing to crack down on corruption and abuse of power, but also if we, who believe in change, cannot make our government more efficient and accountable, our economy more equitable and dynamic.

On May 9, the rakyat also chose to abandon the politics of division, which had been exploited by the previous Umno-led government and its proxies. We must not let this be reignited, spirit of unity be squandered.

Indeed, in the long run, the only way that Malays and Bumiputeras can move forward is in a Malaysia that is a multiracial, diverse democracy.

The kind of Malaysia that Umno and PAS wanted, the kind of country that a great many leaders and grassroots still want – ethnocentric, exclusive, and where anything goes if it suits the whims of the powerful – would have been an unmitigated disaster for our people.

But, the leaders and grassroots of PH – indeed, all Malaysians – need to realise that we must also “work smart” when it comes to reform.

In the months and years ahead, attempts will be made to bring identity politics to the fore again.

Race, religion and the royalty will be used to divide the government and the people.

These “wedge issues” will be used to set the stage for a reversal of the movement for change that culminated a little more than a month ago, a reversal of the newfound openness and freedom that we have enjoyed since then, to reduce it to less than what we had before.

The Malaysian people and the PH government should not take the bait.

Not all of those who disagree with our government are close-minded reactionaries or religious radicals.

We must know how to pick our battles.

PH, in my mind, was elected to restore the spirit and letter of our founding documents: the federal constitution, the Malaysia Agreement, the Rukunegara.

Of the Rukunegara, most of us can recall its five pillars, but rarely its preamble:

“Whereas our country Malaysia nurtures the ambitions of:

Achieving a more perfect unity among the whole of her society;

Preserving a democratic way of life;

Creating a just society, where the prosperity of the country can be enjoyed together in a fair and equitable manner;

Guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and,

Building a progressive society that will make use of science and modern technology.”

These ambitions must be our lodestar from now on. We must always be guided, and abide by, our foundational principles.

These include the precept that Malaysia is both a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, with the separation of powers and a system of checks and balances, and that there exists a social contract between our people, but whose function is emphatically not to exalt one race and derogate others.

It is possible – even necessary – for openness and transparency to exist side by side with civility.

It is not a defeat, much less a “betrayal”, if the pace of reform in the New Malaysia is sequenced, makes common sense and is “sane”.

It is also not about giving a “free pass” to the beneficiaries and surrogates of the abuses of the old administration. They must, and will be, dealt with according to the law.

Gradual reform also does not mean tolerating racism or prejudice in any form.

In the New Malaysia, all its people must be given opportunities, regardless of who they are.

However, the risk of a backlash is real.

Let us not forget how, in the US, Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 were followed by Donald Trump’s in 2016, or how the Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron eras in the UK culminated in Brexit.

This is not a call for excessive caution or a retreat from reform. Far from it.

Rather, Malaysians who believe in change must realise that there is a lot of work ahead of us.

If democracy is to survive in Malaysia, the PH government must be able to assuage the concerns of all Malaysians, as well as uplift them, in terms of both their dignity and economic standing.

To do that, its leaders and followers must work together. We won as a big tent, we must govern as a big tent.

There must be honesty, mutual respect, and most importantly, an acknowledgment that no one has a monopoly on serving, or defining what is or is not, national interest.

Wisdom, prudence and inclusiveness on all sides must be the order of the day, moving forward.

These are interlinked and crucial if the reforms that Malaysians voted for on May 9 are to be made permanent.

* Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad is Pakatan Harapan and PKR Youth leader. He is also Setiawangsa MP and formerly a Selangor exco. He has written a few books in Bahasa Malaysia and English.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

KL MPs Met Save KL Coalition (SKL) On 7 June

KL MPs met Selamatkan KL Coalition (SKL) on June 7th where the main issues were democratisation of KL and gazetting draft of KL City Plan.

Save KL Coalition urges new government to gazette Draft KL City Plan 2020 quickly

KUALA LUMPUR (June 7): The Selamatkan Kuala Lumpur or Save KL Coalition (SKL) expects the Draft KL City Plan 2020 to be gazetted in the next six to eight months, said SKL deputy chairperson Datuk M Ali after a meeting between the coalition and newly elected KL MPs today.

Present was Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Lun, Setiawangsa MP Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh, Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng and Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil. This is their first meeting with SKL since the new government was formed.

“We have started a working relationship and some common grounds on how we can work together. At the end of the day, we just want to work together for the good of KL city and KL people. We are not here to point fingers or criticize anybody,” said Ali.

He said the MPs have to race against time.

“The gazetting of the local plan is the main priority and must be done in six months’ time. We cannot say we wait for six months and then another six months again. There is no reason for it.  We can start in July and study the views and get feedback. Even the Datuk Bandar (mayor) has set the target of six to eight months. So, if he is prepared, it means DBKL should be ready,” said Ali.

However, Ali stressed that the plan has to be reviewed and revisited as changes were made over the years such as in 2013, 2015 and up to two weeks ago.

“The plans may not look like the plan that was discussed back in 2008. We went through a lot of discussions in 2008 but after that, they made changes without getting back to us,” Ali emphasised.

Meanwhile, Segambut MP Yeoh noted that this issue was raised during the election campaign period and the MPs have signed a pledge on SKL’s proposed institutional reforms to Kuala Lumpur and to have the issues solved.

“All the eleven KL MPs of Pakatan Harapan know that this is something we have committed to.

“But we obviously need time. When the Cabinet was appointed, none of us know if there is a Federal Territories Minister or not. So, we cannot comment now in detail. But nevertheless, we have made it here to engage and listen because this kind of engagement is healthy,” said Yeoh.

Other proposed institutional reforms by SKL include the abolishment of the FT Ministry, harmonise the FT Planning Act with the Town and Country Planning Act, democratise the city council, ensure effective community participation, protect green and open spaces and institutional reforms to KL City Hall’s (DBKL) structure.

SKL is made up of KL residents advocating for sustainable growth and development. Previously known as the Coalition to Save Kuala Lumpur, they spearheaded a unified citizen’s engagement with DBKL in 2008 on the Draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020.

Allocation For All Members Of Parliament Is A Good Start