THINK is a series of articles on current and pertinent issues related to policy-relevant matters in Sarawak as well as Malaysia. The articles are written by officers and and members of the Institute. The main aim of the articles is to stimulate public interest in the subjects discussed and contribute towards better-informed decision-making processes in Sarawak, in both public and private sectors.

 

Feedback/Comment is welcome below and can also be sent to THINK@sdi.com.my

Pandemic Crisis: Domestic Violence in Malaysia

 

19th July 2021

 

Domestic violence is defined as “a pattern of violence, abuse, or intimidation used to control or maintain power over a partner who is or has been in an intimate relationship”. It occurs in a myriad of forms such as physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, social, and financial abuse . Domestic violence is not a new social phenomenon. Indeed, it is a global issue that can happen anywhere at any given time.

 

Undeniably, the COVID-19 outbreak is also a major contributor to the recent increase in domestic violence cases the world over where almost a quarter of the world’s population has been under movement restriction or lockdown. For instance, the United Kingdom (UK), recorded a 32 per cent increase in complaints on domestic violence over this period; while in France the highest reported cases was in Paris, at 36 per cent .

 

In Malaysia, there has also been an increase in the cases of domestic violence reported in the media since the introduction of the Movement Control Order (MCO). The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) stated that it had received 1,442 calls via hotline, 1,496 complaints through the WhatsApp application and short messaging system (SMS) relating to domestic violence in 2020 compared to only 579 calls and 816 complaints in 2019 ; an increase of 284 per cent and 83.4 per cent respectively. Among the possible reasons for the rise include; the likelihood of conflict increases as both perpetrators and victims spend more time together while other factors encompass financial difficulties and unconducive living conditions .

 

Many believe that this significant increase in the number of complaints received is just the tip of the iceberg and reported only because the victims were trapped with their abusers without respite throughout the MCO. But more sinister, it may also indicate that this issue is still not taken seriously by both society and the authorities; resulting in many cases going unreported despite the many platforms that have been put in place to allow victims to file complaints.

 

Or, is it because the victims did not come forward because they feel embarrassed? Or they are afraid they may not be believed? Or they don’t want to bring shame to the family? Or they are ignorant of the many avenues available for them to seek help? For the many non-working victims, a marital break-up is a consequence many will not bear especially if they have children and also, circumstances under the MCO make it even more unthinkable to get out there and survive on one’s own with children. Or simply because they worry, they may be stigmatised.

 

What therefore can the immediate community or close family members do in addressing this issue? And what help and action can the authorities, both government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) offer in defending, protecting, assisting, and supporting these victims? Perhaps, a more concerted effort is needed to explain and create greater awareness to convince victims to come forward and tell their stories, and to make society stop remaining silent which indirectly protects the perpetrators.

April 2021

COVID-19 Reality: Loan Moratorium vs Targeted Repayment Assistance

 

“Loan moratorium” has been a buzz phrase since March 2020 when the MCO was first implemented, triggering jitters among Malaysians who were bracing for pay-cuts, lay-offs, or poor returns of sales. The Federal Government announced an automatic 6-month moratorium for all loan repayments beginning 1 April 2020; unless the borrower decides to not accept the moratorium. This measure was aimed to relieve the monthly burden of individuals as well as businesses, to free-up cash flow from bank debts for a period of time. The moratorium was well received by many and even businesses supported the measure that helped minimised the effects on retail spending. After the 6-month period, the Federal Government took the next step to announce the Targeted Repayment Assistance (TRA).

 

Although the general scheme in the TRA is also a moratorium on loan repayments, the emphasis was more on the targeted nature of the assistance rather than it being automatically blanketed like the previous one. Announcement of the TRA was met with mixed reactions where some voiced out their hopes that the earlier moratorium should be maintained and continued while others raised the issue that such a moratorium would incur heavy losses to the banking sector. Other points of concern include the unclear performance of the banking industry (few reports or indicators on profit or losses), the need for a blanketed moratorium, unclear impact of the 6-month moratorium on retail spending power, and the politicisation of the issue by certain quarters for easy brownie points.

 

Some questions to ponder would be how much has the moratorium on loan repayments affected the banks? How much impact has the moratorium on loan repayments affect retail spending power? Looking ahead, what are the impacts of the moratorium on the banks and retail spending power as the pandemic gains momentum?

May 2021

COVID-19: Unemployment Trends in Malaysia

 

It’s a year since Malaysia was hit by the coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak which was first detected in mid-December in the city of Wuhan, China. Since then, all sectors of life were affected and a number of measures have been put in place to mitigate the impact. One of the most significant economic impact is a massive increase in unemployment. According to the Deputy Human Resources Minister, a total of 99,696 workers were laid off between January and November 2020 and these include highly skilled workers comprising managers (13,109 people), professionals (26,079 people), technicians and associate professionals (19,095 people). Among the reasons he quoted include the closure of businesses, downsizing, Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS), Mutual Agreement Separation Scheme (MSS), critical financial problems, partial closures, and takeover of companies and relocation.

 

However, since the past few month, the unemployment rate has improved compared to the beginning of the outbreak where the rate recorded was lower than expected. This was in response to the initial government’s proactive measures that allocated a number of assistance to reduce the burden of the people and the heavily affected industry. These include providing wage subsidies to employers, enabling them to continue their business activities as usual. The loosening up of the MCO has also allowed business activities to pick up.

 

The crucial question remains and that is what is going to happen to the large number of laid off workers? Although the Government has committed funds to assist these people how effective will they be in terms of ensuring they get hired? Employers will also have control of the job market by offering low wages to the many experienced but unemployed workers who once commanded high salaries. The fate of young job seekers including graduates and soon to be graduates looks worse as they now have to compete with older experienced job seekers.

 

The government has to think about creating enough job opportunities in the country to accommodate these groups. If the issue is not properly managed there will be a mismatch between demand and supply and may lead to serious institutional unemployment.

June 2021

Unity in Sarawak: Is it just a mirage?

 

Sarawak is recognized as an example of unity in Malaysia. It is a peaceful multicultural and multi-ethnic state with 2.8 million people comprising 27 different ethnic groups. This racial and cultural diversity is showcased as a symbol of solidarity, harmony and strength of the people in the State and touted as the best model for a multi-ethnic society to enjoy the prosperity of living together. In 2015, its capital Kuching became the first city in the world to be proclaimed as a ‘City of Unity’.

 

The advent of the internet and the widespread use of the social media may pose new challenges and threats to accepted norms. Unfiltered information and messages that are being viralled without ‘check and balance’ can create tension to the peace and harmony of any society, even one that is educated and well informed. This is especially so in a country with political uncertainties, where unity can be severely tested as citizens start to have blinkered perceptions and share their sensitive comments against each other online.

 

Sarawak have not been shielded from this experience as local netizens are found to have argued as well as posted and reacted insensitively on all social media platforms touching on issues termed social deficits in the New National Policy. This Policy identifies 10 social deficits that should be looked into in order to have a more united Malaysia; and they are ethnicity, religion, social class, education, language, generation gap, gender, federalism politics, urban rural space and the media. Social deficits in this context can also be interpreted as issues that, if mishandled can break up a country.

 

How susceptible is Sarawak’s unity in the face of to this new media onslaught?  Will it be strong enough to weather it off and move on and be stronger? Is this friction just a reaction to the antagonistic tones expressed by netizens in the social media? Or is it because the feelings have always been there kept simmering underneath all this while?

Efforts must be made to counter all this negativity in order to at least keep it in check before it gets out of control. The emotional and psychological pressures that people face during this MCO, made worse by the authorities’ poor handling of the pandemic, can make them very vulnerable.  Lack of support and poor motivation from relevant parties can lead to unexpected reactions that could adversely affect the peace and harmony in the State.

July 2021

The M1 of the M40 group

 

05th July 2021

 

The sudden loss of a job or income has become real during this pandemic and according to SOCSO, 89,596 cases of lost employment were reported as of October 2020 in Malaysia, an average of nearly 10,000 cases every month. The same organization has also reported that the professional category is the most affected particularly those in the middle positions. While much assistance has been provided to the most vulnerable groups especially the B40, little attention has been given to those in the M40 especially the ones in band M1 whose income just surpassed the B40 threshold, earning range between RM3,720-RM4,850. Just under two-fifths, or 38.3 per cent, of households in Sarawak belong to the M40 group i.e. those earning between RM3,720 to RM8,649 per month while almost half (45.1%) are T20 (RM8,650 and above). While the remainder or less than a fifth (16.6%) belong to the B40 group.

 

Under the recent 2021 budget, RM10 billion was allocated by the Federal Government to assist the M40 households on top of an increase in individual tax relief and contribution to Employee Provident Fund (EPF) as well as targeted moratorium for this M40 group. In early 2020, the government under Bantuan Prihatin Nasional also gave a RM1,000 one-off assistance to the M40 group, plus another RM600 in September. In Sarawak, there is no specific aid for the M40 and the Bantuan Khas Sarawakku Sayang (BKSS) assistance is mainly geared for the B40 group.

 

It is understandable that a lot of attention need to be given to the B40 group since they are the most vulnerable group in a downward economy. Nevertheless, the government should also give greater consideration to the M40 households especially those in Band M1 as their situation is also very fluid and volatile. The predicament faced by this band M1 M40 is severe as most of them reside in the urban area where the cost of living is high and the prospect of losing a job can happen overnight. The pandemic is worsening and the number of positive cases is increasing daily and spreading fast in the community. If the trend continues those in band M1 of the M40 will be the next cluster of employees that need to be helped. At this moment we may not even have a comprehensive data on this group which is important if and when we need to set immediate programmes or assistance for them.
Efforts must be made to counter all this negativity in order to at least keep it in check before it gets out of control. The emotional and psychological pressures that people face during this MCO, made worse by the authorities’ poor handling of the pandemic, can make them very vulnerable. Lack of support and poor motivation from relevant parties can lead to unexpected reactions that could adversely affect the peace and harmony in the State.

Mental Health and COVID-19

 

Sarawak is recognized as an example of unity in Malaysia. It is a peaceful multicultural and multi-ethnic state with 2.8 million people comprising 27 different ethnic groups. This racial and cultural diversity is showcased as a symbol of solidarity, harmony and strength of the people in the State and touted as the best model for a multi-ethnic society to enjoy the prosperity of living together. In 2015, its capital Kuching became the first city in the world to be proclaimed as a ‘City of Unity’.

 

The advent of the internet and the widespread use of the social media may pose new challenges and threats to accepted norms. Unfiltered information and messages that are being viralled without ‘check and balance’ can create tension to the peace and harmony of any society, even one that is educated and well informed. This is especially so in a country with political uncertainties, where unity can be severely tested as citizens start to have blinkered perceptions and share their sensitive comments against each other online.

 

Sarawak have not been shielded from this experience as local netizens are found to have argued as well as posted and reacted insensitively on all social media platforms touching on issues termed social deficits in the New National Policy. This Policy identifies 10 social deficits that should be looked into in order to have a more united Malaysia; and they are ethnicity, religion, social class, education, language, generation gap, gender, federalism politics, urban rural space and the media. Social deficits in this context can also be interpreted as issues that, if mishandled can break up a country.

 

How susceptible is Sarawak’s unity in the face of to this new media onslaught? Will it be strong enough to weather it off and move on and be stronger? Is this friction just a reaction to the antagonistic tones expressed by netizens in the social media? Or is it because the feelings have always been there kept simmering underneath all this while?

 

Efforts must be made to counter all this negativity in order to at least keep it in check before it gets out of control. The emotional and psychological pressures that people face during this MCO, made worse by the authorities’ poor handling of the pandemic, can make them very vulnerable. Lack of support and poor motivation from relevant parties can lead to unexpected reactions that could adversely affect the peace and harmony in the State.

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