Poverty eradication a top priority for Malaysia: Minister

"Even though the Federal Territories are perceived as lands of opportunity, the high cost of living has significantly impacted many residents living in the city, especially the hardcore poor," says Dr Zaliha Mustafa, Minister in charge of the Federal Territories.


An aerial view of Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: THE STAR

January 2, 2024

KUALA LUMPURFT Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa says approach extends beyond providing aid to the poor

HAVING gone one year without a minister, the Federal Territories once again has someone at Cabinet level to oversee it.

Mustafa, who was previously helming the Health Ministry, taking on the mantle of Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) in charge of the Federal Territories.

Her appointment comes at a crucial time, as the Federal Territories not only celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, but also has been without direction following Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s maiden Cabinet announcement in December 2022, which did away with the Federal Territories Ministry, and downgraded it to a department under the PMD.

Dr Zaliha, 59, who is from Johor, shares with StarMetro her views on her new role and the challenges ahead.

She also touches on her strategic plans for urban development − particularly in Kampung Baru, tackling urban poverty, and infrastructure revitalisation of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan.

Q: After a little over a year of heading the Health Ministry, what were your thoughts when you were appointed as Minister for FT under the PMD?

A: I looked at it as just another responsibility. Although this portfolio (Federal Territories) presents a challenge since it has been without a minister for almost a year, I will continue to uphold the mission and vision of the Prime Minister in elevating the Federal Territories to greater heights.

Undoubtedly, the Federal Territories are unique, comprising Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, and Labuan, each with its distinct roles: Kuala Lumpur as the capital city, Putrajaya as the administrative capital, and Labuan as the financial and international business centre.

In terms of size, even though the three Federal Territories are not as large as some other states, their role in shaping the country’s image is of immense importance.

What will be your focus for the Federal Territories?

In Kuala Lumpur, physical development is significant, yet there remains space and opportunity for further development.

We see considerable potential in Kampung Baru in Kuala Lumpur, as well as in Putrajaya and Labuan. Beyond physical development, I aim to concentrate on the socio-economic advancement of residents across all three territories.

Additionally, I aspire to eradicate poverty in these areas.

Even though the Federal Territories, particularly Kuala Lumpur, are perceived as lands of opportunity, the high cost of living has significantly impacted many residents living in the city, especially the hardcore poor. These issues demand our urgent attention.

What will your approach be to eradicating urban poverty?

A significant portion of my work will focus on eradicating poverty. However, my approach extends beyond merely providing assistance; it involves the implementation of an exit strategy that puts emphasis on career and business opportunities which are more sustainable.

This is so that the impoverished can surpass the poverty threshold and avoid falling back into destitution. It is a formidable challenge, I acknowledge, but not unattainable.

What are your plans for Kampung Baru?

Kampung Baru cannot be left behind, especially as everything around it has flourished. Although some land around it is reserved for Malay stakeholders, this should not be an excuse to neglect the area’s development.

I understand that 88% of the residents support the plans to develop the Malay enclave. Consequently, the Federal Territories Department (JWP) will persist in engaging with the residents who have not yet agreed to the development plans.

The redevelopment of Kampung Baru has been a persistent challenge since the 1970s, mainly due to complications arising from its multiple ownerships. Former FT minister Khalid Abdul Samad suggested purchasing the land at RM1,000 per sq ft, offering up to RM850 in cash and the balance of RM150 in shares through a special purpose vehicle. However, the proposal fell through. Will you be taking the same approach to Kampung Baru as your predecessor, or will you re-evaluate the offer?

Every leader has their own method. I intend to adopt a different approach, but that said, I will not disregard the suggestions made by the former minister.

I will thoroughly review the matter before making any decisions. However, I am committed to ensuring that any plan benefits everyone involved, and I will strive to see this through.

Moving forward, the implementation will occur in stages. And the Federal Territories Department will have their work cut out for them to persuade those who remain undecided, to support the development.

We will conduct engagement sessions and town hall briefings with residents to listen to their hopes and concerns.

I believe that by the end of my term, we will have achieved significant new developments in Kampung Baru.

What are your views on the poor infrastructure and maintenance culture of public facilities in the Federal Territories?

I believe that the maintenance of facilities and infrastructure in the Federal Territories needs more attention.

I am also aware that there are workers who do not adhere to the scope of maintenance work, leading to damage.

I believe such issues can be prevented if we find ways to facilitate these maintenance tasks and also look for methods to collaborate with other relevant agencies.

I also want to emphasise that public complaints must be acted upon promptly, and if there is a need to increase the workforce at the (government) agency level, this should be expedited.

These are all fundamental matters that need prioritisation. Improvement works must be carried out swiftly to uphold the department’s (JWP) and agency’s (local authorities) image in line with the Smart City aspiration, which encompasses Safe City, Healthy City, Hub of Technology, and Friendly City.

What are your plans to make Labuan a tourism hub?

Labuan has high potential due to its geographical location as an island. The potential to develop it into a tourism hub is encouraging. However, matters related to electrical and water infrastructures must be prioritised as these are basic necessities.

I aim to resolve these issues by next year. The government has allocated RM300mil to address these problems. If both of these issues can be resolved promptly, we can then focus on enhancing the economic and tourism aspects of Labuan.

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