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Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim sounded warning bells today, saying the government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) will worsen income disparity and force some 1.7 million Malaysians into poverty by 2020. On the flip side, he said, corporate giants and government cronies would be enjoying a larger slice of the economic pie even as the common Malaysian struggle with hardship. The former finance minister poured doubt over the projections in Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s ETP introduced last year, claiming that instead of reducing the number of low-income workers and increasing the number of high-paying jobs, the initiative would only see the number of urban poor climb.

By 2020, he said, there will be between seven and 8.3 million urban poor in Malaysia, with monthly earnings of RM1,500 and below. The average Malaysian’s stake in the economy, he added, would also deplete significantly under the programme. “In the final analysis, [the] ETP is a continuation of a flawed economic model mired with corruption and rent-seeking culture that rewards the ruling echelons at the expense of the majority,” he told a dinner talk tonight in his keynote address entitled, “Debunking ETP: Widening income gap” at The Westin. Anwar noted that the ETP projects a salary distribution for 2020 that will see an additional 2.8 million people earning more than RM4,000 per month.

But, he said, the trend of slow growth in real wages here would only turn this projection into a “falsehood”. He noted that statistics from the Human Resources Ministry revealed that wages growth in Malaysia recorded an average increase of 2.6 per cent annually for the past decade while “cost of living has outpaced the wages growth”. “This is further verified by the National Employment Return Study of 2009, involving a sample of 24,000 employers and 1.3 million workers which found that 33.8 per cent of the workers were paid below RM700 per month.

“If this were to be extrapolated nationally, it suggests that up to 34 per cent of our workforce earn below the national poverty line,” he said. Another flaw in the assumption used for the ETP, said Anwar, is the 2.8 per cent average inflation for the period up to 2020 which contributes to the programme’s GNI (gross national income) per capita target of RM48,000 by 2020. If inflation grows higher than 2.8 per cent in the next few years, he said, real wages will be lower and the GNI per capita target is nothing more than “a number on a fancy ETP brochure”. “The consequence that these flawed economic assumptions has on ETP is great. The premise that ETP can guarantee higher wages and deliver Malaysia to the path of high-income nation collapses instantly if we were to use more realistic assumptions detached from political spins and propaganda,” he said.


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