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Close attention must be given to income, wealth distribution to eradicate poverty: Dr Mahathir

KUALA LUMPUR (Oct 16): Malaysia has made considerable strides in its poverty eradication efforts but problems relating to poverty persist and require policy attention, said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

He said Malaysia is no longer just grappling with absolute poverty but also with relative poverty, pockets of persistent poverty and urban poverty as well as increasing inequalities.

"While rural poverty still continues to be critical, urban poverty needs policy attention and prescriptions. Persistent pockets of poverty continue to elude policy solutions in Malaysia," he said in his speech at the Yayasan Sejahtera's 2019 International Day For The Eradication Of Poverty Forum: Inclusive Development and Sejahtera In The New Malaysia here today.

The prime minister said close attention has to be given to income and wealth distribution, as progress towards reducing poverty will be stunted unless improvements in income and wealth distribution occur alongside poverty reduction.

"Our experience has taught us that economic growth per se does not equate to development for all. Averages hide a lot of inequality. 

"A country cannot consider itself developed if some segments of its society do not have access to basic amenities, do not have jobs that can give them sufficient incomes or are unemployed, and have little access to productive assets," he said adding that a country is also not developed if some of its population have to struggle on a daily basis to eke out a living and have their children facing malnutrition. 

Dr Mahathir said it is for these reasons that the government launched Malaysia’s new economic model – the “Shared Prosperity Vision” which will enable all Malaysians to continuously experience sustainable and equitable growth at all levels of society regardless of race, class or location.

He said its objectives are to bridge the income and wealth gaps between economic classes, races and geographical territories, to create a progressive economy and emerge as a leading nation in the region. 

The main pillars of the model are based on enhancing business and industry ecosystems, identifying new growth sectors, improvements in human capital, labour markets and wages, he explained.

"The Shared Prosperity Vision is necessary to ensure that the future development of Malaysia reduces the disparities between rich and poor, strengthens social well-being and social capital, and at the same time focuses on territorial development. This will ensure inclusive development and fulfill the objective of not leaving anyone behind," prime minister said.

In the past, Dr Mahathir said, most poverty eradication strategies were essentially top-down and government-driven, but these approaches did not yield optimum results.

At the event, Dr Mahathir lauded Yayasan Sejahtera for using the community-based approach in their outreach to poor and vulnerable communities.

He said through this approach, all strategies and interventions are coordinated at the community level and are based on the assumption that these approaches are focused on the poor, are sustainable and capable of empowering the poor.

“In such an approach, efforts of various stakeholders are coordinated at the community level and designed to improve the socio-economic conditions of all members of the community.

“When communities are empowered, the dignity and self-worth of members of the community will be enhanced and they will take it upon themselves to ensure that the poor and vulnerable in their respective communities are taken care of and have a chance of escaping the shackles of poverty and staying out above it,” he added.

Dr Mahathir also launched a community development fund to enable Yayasan Sejahtera to continue carrying out its community-based projects and encourage more private sector organisations to contribute to the fund as these funds will be used for a worthy cause - to build sustainable communities in the country.

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