Tuesday, March 5, 2019


So I was at the launch yesterday, moderating the panel session after all the speeches. So far, the reception to the guide has been…interesting, to say the least. But since the media gave little attention to the panel discussion, I though I’d set out what topics were discussed. Not that we had any definitive answers, but then part of the motivation for publishing this thing in the first place was to raise awareness. So these were the 3 main themes that I gave to the panel:

  1. I see the main concerns Malaysians have really revolve around the question of jobs and the cost of living, while in a deeper sense there is also a struggle around defining the role the government can play to alleviate those concerns. The level and growth of wages is obviously an issue, and over the long term, this feeds into the problem of adequacy of retirement savings.
  2. One of the more interesting findings from the Belanjawanku estimates is the large chunk of the budgets devoted to transportation, and this is obviously one key factor behind the cost of living that we might discuss. The other major variable appears to be childcare, which is a key differentiator for families with versus without children.
  3. Belanjawanku estimates are based on normal expenditures on a daily, monthly and annual basis, but it doesn’t really cater for emergencies. AKPK data suggests roughly a quarter of people who fall into deep debt because of unexpected out-of-pocket medical expenses.

As I said, we didn’t come up with definitive answers to any of these topics, but I think they certainly frame the deeper issues around Malaysian incomes and financial planning.

One topic I wanted to address, but didn’t have time for, was really the unspoken implication of having reasonably adequate living expenses far above both the minimum wage and poverty line income. That suggests that the grey area in between (not-poor but also not-enough) are people who are economically and financially vulnerable, and don’t have the means to fully participate in society. Or to encapsulate this concept in not so many words, these are the relatively poor, and we should start thinking seriously about shifting the basis of poverty measurement from absolute to relative. So we had an opportunity to really voice some thoughts on a really meaty policy issue, but time didn’t permit (and it might have simply gone right over the audiences’ heads).

In any case, Martin Ravallion wrote a really good piece on this issue a few weeks back, which you should really read.

In the meantime, you can download the guide here.

1 comment:

  1. Given RM950 PLI for the whole Msia, with vulnerability measured as 2.5 of PLI, single hhold (1.8 income earners) earn income of RM1,319/month.