In The Star yesterday, Dr. Rais spoke of "a social crisis" in Malaysia and said that "the question which has to be asked now is whether Malaysians, particularly Muslims, have strayed from values considered as normal".
Dr. Rais was commenting on a statement by Dr. Siti Zaharah in Johore Bahru a day earlier that there are 3.4 million single mothers in the country, with the highest concentration in Terengganu. This means every sixth woman in the country is a single mother.
She said that according to a survey by the Prime Ministerís Department in 1990, some 93 per cent of the single mothers in the country earn less than RM175 a month while 75% are illiterate and 73.5% unemployed. She said single women would be the first priority of the Institute for Social Development in Sungai Besi, to be completed in 2002.
This led Dr. Rais to say that this "worrying trend" showed that the need for a family court was now more apparent.
After all the hullabaloo about the country being suddenly seized by a "social crisis" with every sixth woman in the country being a single mother, it is revealed that Dr. Siti Zaharah and Dr. Rais Yatim had been using wrong data and statistics.
Universiti Putra Malaysiaís Assoc. Prof Dr. Jariah Masud said that there are no 3.4 million single mothers in the country.
She had conducted a study in 1994 on female household heads in the country, based on the 1991 census which stated that there were 635,000 female heads of households and that the average household size was 5.1. Taking this figure, she estimated that there were 3.4 million female heads of households and their dependants.
How did Dr. Siti Zaharah, followed by Dr. Rais, make the quantum leap from 635,000 female heads of households to 3.4 million single mothers in the country?
Todayís Star quoted Dr. Siti Zaharahís press secretary Rosli Dahamin as saying that the Ministerís speech was prepared by Pintas (Projek Induk Social Negara), an agency under the Ministry but when contacted, Pintas chief executive officer, Datuk Dr. Wan Halim Othman concurred with Dr. Jariah that the figure of 3.4 million was for "female heads of households and their dependants" and not for single mothers.
What then is the figure of single mothers in the country? Would single mothers still be the "first priority" of the Institute for Social Development in Sungai Besi under construction, or has the Institute been built under false premises?
What is the lesson of the farce of Dr. Rais and Dr. Zaharahís "social crisis" 3.4 million single mothers that never was?
If Cabinet Ministers, even those with professional backgrounds of Ph.Ds, are so careless about statistics, the Malaysian public must develop a very high skepticism quotient about all future Ministerial utterances.
The least Dr. Siti Zaharah should do now is to issue a fulsome statement about the problem of single mothers in Malaysia, its number, magnitude and socio-economic dimensions, with proper data and statistics showing their sources.