Query on income inequality catches minister unprepared

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Why does the government highlight inter-racial differences in income while downplaying the contribution of intra-racial inequality which in fact is the much more important cause of inequality in society? The Minister concerned didn’t appear prepared for this line of questioning when Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj raised the issue in Parliament.

I got lucky – my question was listed fourth in the Order Paper. There are usually more than 90 questions listed everyday, but only around 15 are answered orally during the 90-minute oral question session. The rest receive written answers, which means that one doesn’t get the opportunity to follow-up with a comment or question.

My question today was listed in the Order Paper as follows:

“Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj (Sg Siput) to ask the Prime Minister to state the latest figure on the number of families with monthly incomes under RM1,000 and between RM1,001–RM2,000, between RM2,001 – RM3,000 and then up to RM20,000 per month.”

Senator Datuk Amirsham b A Aziz, a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, answered that the latest household survey was carried out in 2007. From this survey, which was based on nationwide sampling, it was found that

Household monthly
Percentage
income range
of families



< RM 1000
8.6



RM 1001 – 2000
29.4



RM 2001 – 3000
19.8



RM 3001 – 4000
12.9



RM 4001 – 5000
8.6



RM 5001 – 10,000
15.8



> RM 10,000
4.9





100


My follow-up question was “from the figures presented by the Minister, it is clear that the inequality between the richest 10 per cent and the poorest 10 per cent of society is a much bigger contributor to socio-economic inequality than the difference in the average household incomes of the various ethnic groups.

But in his speech tabling the Mid Term Review of the Ninth Malaysian Plan on 26 June, the Honorable Prime Minister only focused on the differences in average household incomes between the races, and compared Bumiputra average household income to Chinese and to Indian average household income.

My supplementary question is, why does the government highlight inter-racial differences in income while downplaying the contribution of intra-racial inequality which in actual fact is the much more important cause of inequality in society?”

The Minister didn’t appear prepared for this line of questioning, and mumbled something about the government having identified inter-racial income parity as well as rural-urban income parity as policy objectives and needing to present the data in this way to be able to monitor the achievement of these policy objectives.

YB Dr Hj Mohd Puad b Zarkashi, the Umno Member of Parliament for Batu Pahat, who is among the more logical and articulate members of the government bankbenchers, stood up to state that monitoring the inter-racial differences of income still is relevant in Malaysia and should be continued. The Minister agreed.

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