KUALA LUMPUR: Development in rural areas does not solely rest on the shoulders of the federal government as state governments also bear equal responsibility in reducing the hardcore poverty rate in these areas, said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (pix).

Ahmad Zahid, who is also Rural and Regional Development Minister, said some state governments have been committed to developing rural areas, which has resulted in varying living standards among rural residents across states.

“Do not solely rely on the federal government. I am confident that rural areas can progress when state governments have their own income. The crucial point is not only providing basic infrastructure such as electricity and water but also other equally essential developments, including education.

“Emphasis on development is needed, and that is why there is coordination between various ministries and agencies (at the federal level) and state government departments,” he told Bernama in a special interview in conjunction with the recently concluded Bumiputera Economic Congress (KEB) 2024.

He said at present, there are over 8.7 million residents living in rural areas nationwide, with approximately 17.3 per cent of the population classified as poor.

Ahmad Zahid said the government is committed to aiding individuals in the poor and hardcore poor categories, and this is evident through the implementation of various programmes and the distribution of assistance.

He said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had announced several methods to tackle hardcore poverty last year, noting the annual increase in the poverty line’s income bracket.

“At one point, RM1,280 marked the threshold for hardcore poverty, but now, that figure has risen,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Zahid highlighted the government’s current focus on establishing a system aimed at improving the economic status of rural residents, particularly Bumiputeras, to tackle poverty issues effectively.

“We will ensure that the system can help tackle poverty in rural areas, including through the provision of ‘ponds’ and ‘hooks’ to them,” he said in response to the presentation by the Sabah Bumiputera Socioeconomic Cluster chairman Assoc Prof Datuk Dr Ramzah Dambu at KEB 2024.

Ramzah pointed out that the challenges in Sabah differ somewhat due to infrastructure-related issues.

Regarding the development of the Orang Asli community, Ahmad Zahid said that amendments to the Orang Asli Act aim not only to safeguard their rights but also to enhance their living standards.

He said engagement sessions are currently being conducted with relevant agencies, departments, the community itself, and related non-governmental organisations.

“Many Orang Asli individuals hold PhD and bachelor’s degrees and serve as professionals. In my opinion, even though there may be differences in perspective, we must engage with them to garner their valuable inputs for enhancing the overall well-being of the Orang Asli,” he said.

The deputy prime minister highlighted various priorities aimed at uplifting the community’s living standards, with education being a key focus expected to bring transformative changes to their lives.

In 2023, he was reported to have said that amendments to the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 (Act 134) would address issues related to land ownership, marriage registration, and the birth of Orang Asli children.

Ahmad Zahid, who is also National TVET Council Committee chairman, said the education of Orang Asli children would also be strengthened through a strong emphasis on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) to encourage more students to pursue university education.

“Last year, the Department of Orang Asli Development aimed to enrol 300 Orang Asli children into universities, and as a result, over 400 qualified to continue their studies at that level. This year, I believe maybe 500 or more than 600 will enter university,” he said.

Regarding amendments to Act 134, he mentioned that even though they have not received an official response yet, the matter has been discussed in meetings with Menteris Besar, and the response has been generally positive.

“However, there are some isolated issues that we need to address first before finalising the amendments to this Orang Asli Act,” he said. -Bernama