PRIME Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, when presenting the economic recovery plan called Penjana on Friday, highlighted some stark realities about the state of the world’s economy and how Malaysia is responding to that and other challenges posed by the Covid-19 outbreak. All countries, both developed and developing, are facing a type of negative economic growth never seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In Malaysia, the number of jobless people has ballooned to 610,000 and is expected to peak at 860,000 by the end of this year. However, it is heartening to note that the government is introducing a slew of measures to cushion the effects of this economic gloom and doom.
It has introduced economic stimulus packages amounting to an unprecedented RM260bil while also opening up several sectors to ensure the nation’s economic viability.
Among the latest measures the Prime Minister announced are:
> A three-month extension for the wage subsidy programme at a cost of RM5bil to support 2.2 million workers.
> Forty initiatives worth RM35bil to stimulate the economy.
> Six months’ salary for the unemployed worth RM800 per month for those aged below 40, and RM1,000 per month for the disabled and those aged above 40.
> An allocation of RM2bil for skills improvement programmes for youth and the unemployed, benefiting over 200,000 people.
The people must respond. They must respond quickly, positively and responsibly. For those currently unemployed, use the next six months to learn new skills, start new enterprises, and explore opportunities in the gig economy.
Explore also opportunities in the digital economy including digital entrepreneurship. This economy will expand as firms will increasingly rely on digitalisation and artificial intelligence for basic routines and for more complex tasks. The use of drones and the increasing reliance on data science will also provide new opportunities.
Take advantage of opportunities to acquire new skills that will help to do freelance work, provide home tuition or offer online services.
Of course, there still will be a large residue of unemployed or unemployable people who may need other kinds of assistance, like counselling, to cope with feelings of despair and helplessness. NGOs with a social focus can assist to provide the necessary mental health support. The government should beef up the mental health unit in the Health Ministry to provide psychosocial support and counselling for those affected.
While the government’s efforts to provide help directly to those affected by the pandemic must be lauded, perhaps it could give additional thought to the question of whether or not it should or could do more. For instance, could it do more with the employment retention programme? Could the programme benefit from a further injection of funds? The current funding of RM240mil will only cover 66,000 employees, which is only a small percentage of the projected number of unemployed people.
Also, could funding be increased for the wages subsidy programme? The allocated sum of an additional RM5bil for three months appears to be on the low side because this only amounts to about 0.6% of wages per month in the formal private sector. For comparison, in the UK, the subsidy is up to 80% for eight months. Canada, France and Singapore provide wages subsidies of up to 75%.
The private sector could also do more. Corporations that have grown large and profitable over the years thanks to the contributions of their workforce should now be more humane in their treatment of their staff. For instance, they must not be too quick to retrench workers. They could try other means of cutting costs, like reducing salaries, cutting out some benefits and instituting other cost-cutting measures to continue keeping their staff on their payrolls. This will be a humanitarian approach that would help to uplift staff morale and maintain their mental wellbeing.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE
Chairman, Alliance For Safe Community
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