Govt must find exit strategy to curb unemployment

Despite how damaging it may be, unemployment is a reality that the govt must come to terms with

pic by BLOOMBERG

A FRIEND working in an oil and gas-related company was sacked early this month. This was his second premature and non-voluntary resignation in the last three and a half years in a sector that promised heavenly salaries and global opportunities.

During the global oil rout of 2014, hundreds of thousands of people were sent home jobless. It was heart-wrenching.

A repeat of the 2014 oil tragedy is all but already in the making. When the world stayed indoors, the money wells dried up. And so were the jobs.

Covid-19 is unlike volte-face politicians. It does not panic, choose sides, change alliances or flip-flop. Coronavirus has been all but a single-minded terror.

The mounting number of deaths is a reminder of its existence. Economies are also collapsing and the world is staring at another crisis — unemployment.

In the US, the country with the highest coronavirus-linked deaths, 20.5 million people were made jobless in April alone. Unemployment in the world’s largest economy skyrocketed to 14.7%, the worst since the Great Depression era.

The Washington Post wrote: “The speed and magnitude of the loss defies comparison.”

Malaysia is plunging down a similar alley. Unemployment rates are soaring at the speed of a nitrous oxide-powered Ferrari.

In March, the number of unemployed people in Malaysia soared 17.1% to 610,500 people compared to 521,000 during the same month last year.

The jobless rate rose to 3.9% in March, said the Department of Statistics, compared to 3.6% in February. The March percentage is higher than during the Asian financial crisis.

It is the same month millions of Malaysians were cooped up in their homes. Back then, very few would have thought they will not have a job to return to in the months to come.

The number of working people in March shrunk by more than 32,000 to 15.84 million compared to the month before the lockdown. The country could well be on its way to eclipse the 4.11% rate of 1993.

It has been a hard choice. Many parties have argued that the people’s health and wellbeing supersede economic considerations.

Rightly so, the Malaysian government has put health first. There is little doubt that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin-led Perikatan Nasional government has successfully flattened the spread of Covid-19.

Cocooning the people and shuttering businesses have been justified. From being the fourth-highest country in Asia based on the number of infections, Malaysia has been grouped among the few success stories in the war against the Covid-19 threat.

There are no thousands of deaths. The health system did not collapse. Even the people supported the lockdown and the extensions.

Muhyiddin certainly added a few more supporters. His popularity soared, especially among Malay-Muslim folks with his people-friendly nationally televised addresses, though the jury is still out on the legitimacy of the government.

But the prime minister has not officially addressed the mounting unemployment. He has been extremely careful.

The constant financial aids have been the cushion against such concerns. But at one point or another, it is the elephant in the room. The approval of 2.3 million new applications and appeals for Bantuan Prihatin Nasional signals how damaging the situation is.

The latest figure means 10 million people or almost a third of the country’s 32 million populations are receiving financial aid. The figure is expected to spike with rising unemployment. The old Barisan Nasional playbook of cash handouts may not work forever.

Many are still in deniable mode. Others are hiding from the painful truth. Maybe, the restriction on “balik kampung” for Aidilfitri is the black swan event rather than hundreds of thousands of jobless Malaysians.

Despite how damaging it may be, unemployment is a reality that the government must come to terms with.


Mohamad Azlan Jaafar is the editor- in-chief of The Malaysian Reserve.