It was a talk organised in conjunction with our Merdeka celebration. Instead of reflecting on the achievements we made for the past 55 years, Royal Professor Engku Aziz or more fondly known as Pak Engku shared his thoughts on mitigating Extreme Poverty Group (EPG).
The subject of poverty is almost synonymous with Pak Engku. Even Tabung Haji, the institution which enables Muslims in Malaysia to be involved in economic activities while saving their money to perform the Hajj (an obligation on all Muslims who could afford this once in their lifetime) was based on his research on how Muslims in the rural areas saved their money for the Hajj and became poor again after the religious obligations is fulfilled. As a side not, he shared the fact that despite the concept of Tabung Haji was predominantly based on his efforts, he was not given any role when the institution was established by the government.
Back to the issue of EPG, this is based on his idea that was published in The Edge in January this year. This group refers to a household earning less than RM800 per month, irrespective of where they live. The motivation behind his thoughts was that he felt nobody in Malaysia has come out with a comprehensive programme to mitigate the EPG. He shared his experience in the early days after the Merdeka with the then Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, where Tunku felt that there was no poverty in Malaysia because he saw people were smiling and happy whenever he meet them. If this was the situation in those early days, the oversight could be amplified now as we have tall buildings and other megastructures which hides the EPG from our sight, literally.
Asked why he chose "mitigation" instead of "eradication" of EPG in his article, Pak Engku, who is now 90, was frank enough to recognised that at his age he has not much time left and mitigation is a realistic expectation that he has for his idea. Nevertheless, continuous mitigation could result in something close to eradication if consistently pursued as suggested.
While you could read the details of his view on EPG, the question before us is what would we do to address this real problem? Many of us are comfortable enjoying the fruits of our efforts arising from the opportunities available in this country and this success may blind us from the fact that there are many other Malaysians who are not as lucky as us.
A final point that is worthy to note here is that Pak Engku does not believe that artificial corporate responsibility activities and seasonal distribution of handouts (whenever popularity is needed as Pak Engku believes that Malaysians are smart enough now days to make decision based on their beliefs) would be effective in mitigating EPG.
It was certainly a meaningful event for me, especially when I was able to interact directly with a person who is an institution on his own merit. Highly intellectual and full of integrity, Engku Aziz will be remembered for his strive to address the issue of poverty which is around despite us having the twin towers in Kuala Lumpur. May Allah bless him with guidance and peace.