Economic cheers can turn into tears if Covid-19 situation persists

The government needs to be consistent in enforcement while the people need to do their part as well.

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Published in Malaysiakini, image by Malaysiakini,

Just when the economy has been crunching good actual numbers for the country, the daily Covid-19 infection is ballooning this past one month – first in the 1,000s, then 2,000s, followed by 3,000s and 4,000s on Friday (May 7) and Saturday (May 8).

It’s good that yesterday (May 9), it’s back to the 3,000s – 3,733 new cases to be precise.

On the economic front, the latest figures released by the Department of Statistics (DOSM) shows unemployment rate for March declined by 0.1% to 4.7% with the number of unemployed persons declined by 24,400 persons to 753,200 persons as compared to February’s 777,500 persons or a 4.8% unemployment rate.

What’s more, the number of people employed in March rose by 0.2% or 34,300 persons to 16.08 million from 16.05 million in February, and there was a higher labour force participation rate at 68.6% compared to February’s 68.5%.

Since April 2020, the number of employed persons was on a year-on-year decline but for the first time after 11 consecutive months, the number of employed persons registered a positive year-on-year growth of 0.6% (96,900 persons), according to chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who chaired the National Employment Council (NEC), said a total of 150,597 job seekers have succeeded in obtaining employment through 12 programmes implemented as at April 23 – exceeding the cumulative projection. The government, through the NEC, is targeting to create 500,000 job opportunities for this year.

“The government’s efforts in raising investments in the country have succeeded in creating 33,907 new jobs and 76 percent of them are in the skilled and semi-skilled categories. This is a part of the target of 160,000 new jobs from the commitment of investments for 2021,” he said in a Facebook post on May 7.

Another figure to cheer on is that Malaysia is set to exceed its foreign direct investment (FDI) this year from last year’s FDI of RM164 billion.

According to senior minister cum international trade and industry minister, Azmin Ali, Malaysia has managed to attract high-quality FDI worth RM81.9 billion from 240 companies since April – including investments in the technology, innovation, green technology, electric vehicles and financial technology sectors.

This means an average FDI of RM20.5 billion per month which gives a conservative projected amount of RM246 billion for the year. And this does not include RM44 billion worth of foreign investments that are currently at various stages of evaluation for the future, and the investment commitments garnered during Azmin’s latest investment mission to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from late April to early May.

According to Miti, in terms of potential investment, the companies in Saudi Arabia had committed in the immediate term to invest a total of RM200 million in Malaysia. Concurrently, the Saudi Arabian companies had also committed to source Malaysian goods and services amounting to RM833.5 million, to be realised in the coming years.

Similarly, for the UAE, Miti said the Emirati companies had committed in the immediate term, to cumulatively invest a total of RM2.16 billion in Malaysia and purchase Malaysian goods amounting to RM470 million.

And what’s interesting is the FDI committed so far are not lopsided in the sense of solely focusing on the Klang Valley or Peninsular Malaysia. The top management of SK Nexilis of South Korea, for instance, has agreed to double their investment in Sabah from RM2.3 billion to RM4.24 billion. While Japanese electronic components supplier Taiyo Yu-den, intends to invest RM3.75 billion to expand its operations in Sarawak.

Yet another positive economic number to cheer on is Malaysia’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) which is upped at 53.9 in April, the strongest expansion since July 2012 – indicating a solid improvement in the health of the manufacturing sector, according to IHS Markit.

April data suggested that output grew for the first time in nine months. The pace of growth was the strongest recorded since June 2020. Firms commonly attributed the renewed growth to improved market demand leading to increased orders.

“New order volumes also returned to expansion territory in April, the first rise since September 2018. The pace of the increase was solid, and the quickest in exactly seven years, as manufacturers noted stronger client confidence, notably for new products. Furthermore, new export sales increased for the first time since November 2019, as demand in key markets across Asia and the US recovered,” it said.

Finally, trade, exports and imports hit a new record high when all continued its upward trajectory in March 2021. Total trade expanded by 25.6% to RM185.74 billion compared to March 2020. Exports accelerated by 31%, surpassing RM100 billion mark to reach RM104.95 billion. Imports increased by 19.2% to RM80.79 billion and trade surplus surged by 96.1% to RM24.15 billion. Trade, exports, imports and trade surplus recorded double-digit growth for two consecutive months.

All these cheers brought about by the economy could change into tears if the daily Covid-19 infection is not taken care of.

The number to watch is the all-time high daily infection of 5,728 recorded on January 30. If this number is breached, it means the emergence of a new peak, along with the start of the fourth wave.

Thus, it is of the utmost importance to cap the numbers at the 3,000s, and then bring it down to 1,000s and finally a three-digit daily infection for us to heave a sigh of relief, a breather so to speak but definitely not out of the woods yet.

How can this be achieved?

The devil lies in the details of the need to balance between lives and livelihood. In the past few days, we can see stricter enforcement of the SOPs. I personally encountered at an ATM outlet to draw out cash, when enforcement officers went in too, and asked everyone to show their scanned MySejahtera apps, or being stopped by enforcement officers near midnight to enquire where I was going as I was on the way to a pump station to get petrol for my car.

The loopholes for potential interstate travel all this while through the unblocked Federal Highway have also been patched with police roadblocks.

The government doesn’t have to wait for the daily infections to reach the 3,000s for such strict enforcements, as this should be the mainstay of enforcement especially when it’s in the 1,000s.

And unlike the one encountered by a burger stall in Kelantan which was fined RM50,000, the enforcement officers I encountered at the ATM were very polite and firm – the few who did not scanned their MySejahtera apps were firmly given a stern verbal warning and were told to go out and scan their apps, with their particulars taken without being compounded.

This is enforcement with a heart which will definitely win many hearts, or as described by my Emir Research colleague, Jason Loh, an empathetic or prihatin enforcement in his article, “Enforcement officers, please show empathy”.

The government must also improve its communications to the people so that all SOPs can be understood in a simple way and do not look contradictory. But the rakyat should also understand that this is the first time such a pandemic occurs that features a trade-off between the economy and public health, hence expect the government to change course each time it gets a different feedback.

It doesn’t help if this attempt to change course after getting a feedback is being insinuated contemptuously as a U-turn.

But there is only so much the government and enforcement officers can do because ultimately the success formula in the war against the Covid-19 virus is personal and social responsibility of all citizens relating to the practise of the 3Ws of basic personal hygiene and avoiding the 3Cs.

The three Ws are wash your hands, wear a mask in public, and heed MOH warnings in relation to shaking hands, good coughing and sneezing etiquettes, seek treatment if symptomatic, disinfect touched surfaces frequently, and stay at home, while the 3Cs are avoiding crowded places, confined spaces, and close conversations.

Other than stricter enforcement with a heart, for now what the government needs to do is to ensure the healthcare service is not overwhelmed so that an increase in daily infections in the 5,000s can be postponed indefinitely or better still, eliminated.

What the rakyat need to do is to understand that when the fourth wave arrives, it would be more lethal and serious than the current wave that will give a major setback to the economy and hamstrung all economic gains, not to mention the toll on lives, hence the importance of always to observe the SOPs set by the authorities.

Jamari Mohtar is director of media & communications at Emir Research, an independent think-tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based upon rigorous research.

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Diterbitkan di Malaysia Now.

Sedang ekonomi negara mencatatkan angka sebenar yang baik, angka jangkitan harian Covid-19 pula melambung tinggi sejak sebulan lalu – pertama menerusi angka 1,000-an, kemudian 2,000-an, diikuti 3,000-an dan 4,000-an pada Jumaat (7 Mei) dan Sabtu (8 Mei). Ia kemudian kembali 3,000-an pada 9 Mei dengan 3,733 kes.

Dari segi ekonomi, angka terbaru Jabatan Perangkaan Negara menunjukkan kadar pengangguran Mac menurun 0.1% kepada 4.7% dengan jumlah pengangguran merosot 24,400 orang kepada 753,200 orang, berbanding 777,500 pada Februari. Malahan, jumlah orang yang bekerja pada Mac naik 0.2% atau 34,300 orang menjadi 16.08 juta, berbanding 16.05 juta pada Februari.

Sejak April 2020, jumlah orang bekerja merosot tetapi buat pertama kalinya setelah kemerostoan 11 bulan berturut-turut, jumlah mereka yang bekerja mencatatkan pertumbuhan positif sebanyak 0.6% (96,900 orang), menurut Ketua Statistik Dr Mohd Uzir Mahidin.

Sementara itu, Perdana Menteri Muhyiddin Yassin yang mempengerusikan Majlis Pekerjaan Nasional (NEC) mengatakan seramai 150,597 pencari kerja telah berjaya memperoleh pekerjaan melalui 12 program yang dilaksanakan pada 23 April – melebihi unjuran kumulatif. Kerajaan, melalui NEC, mensasar mewujudkan 500,000 peluang pekerjaan untuk tahun ini.

“Usaha kerajaan meningkatkan pelaburan berhasil mewujudkan 33,907 pekerjaan baru dan 76% berada dalam kategori mahir dan separuh mahir. Ini adalah sebahagian sasaran 160,000 pekerjaan baru dari komitmen pelaburan untuk 2021,” katanya dalam catatan Facebook pada 7 Mei.

Satu lagi perangkaan positif ialah Malaysia dijangka dapat meraih pelaburan langsung asing (FDI) tahun ini yang melebihi RM164 bilion – jumlah FDI tahun lalu.

Menurut Menteri Kanan merangkap Menteri Perdagangan Antarabangsa dan Industri Mohamed Azmin Ali, Malaysia telah berjaya menarik FDI berkualiti tinggi bernilai RM81.9 bilion dari 240 syarikat sejak April – termasuk pelaburan dalam teknologi, inovasi, teknologi hijau, kenderaan elektrik dan sektor teknologi kewangan.

Ini bermakna purata FDI RM20.5 bilion sebulan yang memberikan unjuran konservatif RM246 bilion tahun ini, tidak termasuk pelaburan asing bernilai RM44 bilion yang kini dalam pelbagai peringkat penilaian, dan komitmen pelaburan yang diraih semasa misi pelaburan terbaru Azmin ke Arab Saudi dan Emiriah Arab Bersatu (UAE) dari akhir April hingga awal Mei.

Menurut kementerian perdagangan antarabangsa dan industri (Miti), dari segi potensi pelaburan, syarikat-syarikat di Arab Saudi telah memberi komitmen pelaburan segera sejumlah RM200 juta di Malaysia. Pada masa sama, syarikat Arab Saudi juga telah memberi komitmen mendapatkan barang dan perkhidmatan Malaysia berjumlah RM833.5 juta, yang akan direalisasikan pada tahun-tahun mendatang.

Begitu juga untuk UAE, Miti mengatakan syarikat-syarikat Emirat telah memberi komitmen segera melabur secara keseluruhan sejumlah RM2.16 bilion di Malaysia dan membeli barang-barang Malaysia berjumlah RM470 juta.

Dan yang menarik ialah FDI yang diraih setakat ini tidak bersifat sepihak dalam erti kata hanya memberi tumpuan kepada Lembah Klang atau Semenanjung Malaysia. Syarikat SK Nexilis dari Korea Selatan, misalnya, bersetuju melipatganda pelaburan di Sabah dari RM2.3 bilion kepada RM4.24 bilion. Sementara pembekal komponen elektronik Jepun Taiyo Yu-den berhasrat melabur RM3.75 bilion mengembangkan operasinya di Sarawak.

Satu lagi angka ekonomi positif ialah Indeks Pengurus Pembelian (PMI) Malaysia yang meningkat 53.9 pada April, pengembangan terkuat sejak Julai 2012 – menunjukkan peningkatan kukuh kesihatan sektor pembuatan, menurut IHS Markit.

“Data April menunjukkan pengeluaran meningkat pertama kalinya dalam sembilan bulan – rentak pertumbuhan paling kuat sejak Jun 2020. Syarikat biasanya mendapati pertumbuhan baru ekoran permintaan pasaran meningkat yang menyebabkan peningkatan pesanan.

“Jumlah pesanan baru juga kembali berkembang pada April, kenaikan pertama sejak September 2018. Rentak kenaikan itu kukuh, dan paling cepat dalam tujuh tahun, kerana pengeluar mendapati keyakinan pelanggan yang lebih kuat, terutama untuk produk baru. Tambahan pula, penjualan eksport baru meningkat pertama kalinya sejak November 2019, apabila permintaan di pasaran utama di seluruh Asia dan AS pulih,” katanya lagi.

Akhir sekali, perdagangan, eksport dan import mencapai rekod tertinggi apabila semuanya menunjukkan kenaikan pada Mac 2021. Jumlah dagangan berkembang 25.6% kepada RM185.74 bilion berbanding Mac 2020. Eksport naik 31%, melepasi RM100 bilion iaitu RM104.95 bilion. Import bertambah 19.2% kepada RM80.79 bilion dan lebihan dagangan melonjak 96.1% kepada RM24.15 bilion. Perdagangan, eksport, import dan lebihan dagangan mencatatkan pertumbuhan dua digit selama dua bulan berturut-turut.

Semua sorakan kepada angka positif hasil prestasi ekonomi yang baik boleh berubah menjadi tangisan jika jangkitan harian Covid-19 tidak dikawal.

Angka yang harus dipantau adalah jangkitan harian tertinggi sepanjang masa sebanyak 5,728 dicatatkan pada 30 Januari. Jika angka ini ditembusi, ia bermakna  munculnya puncak barudalam jangkitan harian, bersamaan dengan permulaan gelombang keempat.

Oleh itu, adalah sangat penting membatasi angka jangkitan pada 3,000-an, dan kemudian menurunkannya menjadi 1,000an dan akhirnya jangkitan harian tiga digit untuk kita menghela nafas lega, walaupun ia bukan bermakna berakhirnya masalah.

Bagaimana ini dapat dicapai?

Kuncinya terletak pada perincian keperluan untuk menyeimbangkan antara kehidupan dan penghidupan yang bukan terlalu mudah untuk dicapai.

Beberapa hari kebelakangan ini, kita dapat melihat penguatkuasaan SOP yang lebih ketat seperti yang saya alami secara peribadi di tempat ATM untuk mengeluarkan wang tunai, apabila beberapa pegawai penguatkuasa memasuki juga, dan meminta semua orang menunjukkan aplikasi MySejahtera yang diimbas, atau dihentikan pegawai penguatkuasa hampir tengah malam untuk bertanya di mana destinasi saya semasa saya dalam perjalanan ke stesen pam untuk mengisi petrol.

Juga, potensi perjalanan rentas negeri melalui Lebuhraya Persekutuan yang tidak disekat kini disekat melalui sekatan jalan oleh pihak polis.

Kerajaan tidak perlu menunggu jangkitan harian mencecah 3,000-an untuk penguatkuasaan ketat ini, kerana ia seharusnya menjadi ciri utama penguatkuasaan selagi jangkitan harian belum mencapai tahap dua atau tiga digit, lebih-lebih lagi ketika jangkitan harian berada di paras 1,000-an.

Dan tidak seperti di gerai burger di Kelantan yang didenda RM50,000, pegawai penguatkuasa yang saya temui di ATM sangat sopan dan tegas – sebilangan kecil yang tidak mengimbas aplikasi MySejahtera mereka diberi teguran lisan dan disuruh keluar untuk mengimbas aplikasi mereka, dengan butiran peribadi mereka diambil tanpa disaman.

Ini adalah penguatkuasaan dengan hati, yang pastinya akan menawan banyak lagi hati, atau seperti yang dijelaskan oleh rakan saya di Emir Research, Jason Loh, penguatkuasaan empati atau prihatin dalam artikelnya, “Pegawai penguatkuasa, tolong tunjukkan empati”.

Kerajaan juga mesti memperbaiki komunikasi kepada rakyat agar semua SOP dapat difahami dengan mudah dan tidak kelihatan bertentangan. Tetapi rakyat juga harus memahami ini adalah pertama kalinya pandemik seperti ini menimbulkan pilihan sukar antara penakatan ekonomi dengan kesihatan awam, lantas menerima perubahan dalam SOP yang diumumkan kerajaan setiap kali ia mendapat maklum balas baru.

Masalah tidak akan berkurangan jika perubahan ini disindir dengan cemuhan pusingan U-turn kerana hakikatnya, formula kejayaan dalam perang melawan virus Covid adalah tanggungjawab peribadi dan sosial semua warga berhubung dengan  amalan asas kebersihan diri 3W dan mengelakkan 3C.

Amalan 3W – mencuci (wash) tangan, memakai (wear) pelitup muka, dan memperhatikan amaran (warning) KKM mengenai berjabat tangan, etika batuk dan bersin yang baik, dapatkan rawatan jika simtomatik, membasmi kuman permukaan yang sering disentuh, dan tinggal di rumah. 3C pula terungkap dalam amalan mengelakkan tempat sesak (crowd), ruang terbatas (confine), dan perbualan rapat (close).

Selain penguatkuasaan lebih ketat, apa yang perlu dilakukan kerajaan adalah memastikan khidmat jagaan kesihatan tidak terbeban agar jangkitan harian pada angka 5,000-an dapat ditangguhkan atau lebih baik lagi, dihapuskan.

Apa yang perlu dilakukan rakyat pula menggarap sedalam-dalamnya ketibaan gelombang keempat akan membawa kepada situasi lebih dasyat yang impaknya akan menghambat semua pencapaian ekonomi, apatah lagi jumlah korban jiwa yang ditanggung. Lantaran itu, adalah terlalu amat penting untuk sentiasa mematuhi SOP yang ditetapkan oleh pihak berkuasa.

Jamari Mohtar adalah pengarah media & komunikasi di Emir Research, sebuah organisasi pemikir bebas yang berfokuskan kepada pencernaan saranan-saranan dasar strategik berteraskan penyelidikan yang terperinci, konsisten dan menyeluruh.

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