KUALA LUMPUR, May 17 — Providing jobs for more than half a million unemployed Malaysians should be made a priority in the government’s economic recovery plan which it intends to roll out soon.
Even more urgent is the need to create a conducive environment that will enable millions in the informal work sector who are self-employed to get back into business as soon as possible.
It was indeed worrisome when the Department of Statistics revealed that 600,000 persons have been left unemployed as of March this year due to the movement control order (MCO).
The number would be considerably higher by now, taking into account school leavers, graduates and those laid off in sectors such as the tour and travel industry which would take a long time to recover.
For Malaysians, what they seek now is to have a job and earn money, support their families, be able to buy food and necessities, pay their bills and settle outstanding loans.
Reports of members of the middle-class category joining queues to collect food aid due to being retrenched shows a sad state of affairs, no thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, fully cognisant of what is surely a grave situation, stressed that reviving economic activities quickly is pivotal once the MCO ends.
It was also a clear message by the Prime Minister for policymakers to focus on job creation and stimulate business activity in a difficult environment.
Given the new normal and placid economic conditions, it will no doubt be a tough assignment for the Ministry of Finance (MoF) which has been tasked with formulating the recovery plan together with the Economic Planning Unit (EPU).
The plan, while encompassing short, medium- and long-term perspectives, must not only be comprehensive but dynamic in nature.
This means that the government must be flexible to fine-tune or tweak the plan based on changing conditions affecting specific sectors, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMES) – the backbone of the manufacturing sector.
Against such a backdrop, there would be enormous pressure on the MoF, the EPU — basically the entire government machinery — to make good on the highly-anticipated recovery plan and deliver to the rakyat.
It is encouraging to note that Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz comes from the private sector, which means he will have a pulse on actual market conditions.
And that means he will be well-placed to come out with practical approaches and realistic goals to restore the economy, as well as the gumption to withdraw plans that, after hindsight, do not work.
Moreover, his proclamations that in the recovery plans, “no one will be left behind” and “what’s important is that we keep as many people employed” are reassuring for multitudes of Malaysians, especially unemployed youths.
However, only when details of the plan are revealed will we know to what extent the welfare of each and every Malaysian is safeguarded.
In working out strategies, the Finance Minister must be ready to use the big stick against employers who, despite being recipients of the billions of ringgit under the stimulus plan, had no qualms to short-change workers in the cruellest way by laying them off.
The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) warned last month that millions of workers face the possibility of being retrenched or getting massive pay cuts.
This is in view of unscrupulous employers, who, despite receiving massive government aids and raking huge profits in the past, are given a free hand with regards to the fate of their helpless workers.
MTUC highlighted that it is crucial to safeguard the interests of employees who are struggling to keep their jobs and sustain their families with meagre wages under the current difficult conditions.
Malaysia’s economy, as exemplified by the New Economic Policy, is one premised on social engineering.
Under the current circumstances, policymakers must ensure that social engineering is central to the recovery plan encompassing all citizens, regardless of their background.
Only then and in time to come, based on how effective the recovery plan is, can the government say with conviction that “no one was left behind.”