Mahathir’s criticism of UNDP’s human development index misinformed and misguided

by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Friday, 4td June 1993:

Mahathir’s criticism of UNDP’s human development index misinformed and misguided

The anger and criticism of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, against the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in ranking the country in the 57th position and below Israel in human development in its 1993 report is misinformed and misguided.

The report that Malaysia had slipped from a high ranking in human development in the UNDP report in 1991 to the 51st position last year and further lower to 57th position this year is not correct either.

The UNDP’s human development report ranking for Malaysia in 1991 was 52nd position, and it went up to 51st position in 1992, and from reports, it slipped down to 57th position in the 1993 Report.

Dr. Mahathir said the UNDP human development ranking must not be taken seriously, and said that UNDP ignorance was obvious “as Isreal, where people are being killed daily and children shot, was ranked higher than Malaysia which was trying to create a stable atmosphere.”

It is apparent that Dr. Mahathir is not aware of the criteria used by the UNDP for its human development ranking of countries in its annual reports, confusing the human development index with political freedoms.

As the UNDP 1991 report explained, its human development index (HDI) combined national income with two social indicators – adult literacy and life expectancy.

The UNDP chose these three components of longevity, knowledge and decent living standards as they are a reliable measure of sicio0economic progress.

The 1991 UNDP report concedes that its HDI does not include freedom – political and civil rights. This was why in the 1991 UNDP Report, it proposed a new ranking to measure human freedoms in each country, formulating a Human Freedom Index (HFI).

Malaysia was placed in the 55th position out of 88 countries, and this was the subject of a fierce denunciation by Dr. Mahathir against the UNDP Human Freedom Index.

In 1991, Dr. Mahathir did not express any objection to Malaysia being placed in the 52nd place in its human development ranking.

The UNDP had admitted the limitations of its definition of Human Development Index, as it agrees the concept of human development is incomplete if it does not incorporate freedom, and that the next logical step would be to merge the HDI and the HFI into one overall index which it concede is not yet possible in any realistic fashion.

Instead of railing against the UNDP Reports, it would be more beneficial for Malaysia if the government is prepared to conduct a nation-wide examination of our own record both on Human rights as well as human development.