State govt’s initial post-Covid-19 economic strategy gets thumbs down from Chong

Chong Chieng Jen

KUCHING, May 6: DAP Sarawak chairman Chong Chieng Jen says the state government’s post-Covid-19 economic strategy up to 2030 lacked the focus to bring solutions to the impending economic recession and hardships brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Abang Jo’s announcement today on the Post Covid-19 Exit Economic Strategy up to 2030 is a huge disappointment to the business sectors in Sarawak.

“To make an announcement of the government’s plan up to 2030 at this critical time only shows that the government has no clue as to how to save and revive our economy from the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said in a statement today.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg today revealed the initial stage of Sarawak’s Post-Covid-19 Exit Economic Strategy Up to 2030 in which the Sarawak Economic Action Council has been formed to study and formulate new action plans to develop nine main sectors in achieving Sarawak’s new economic agenda which will be anchored based on two core principles of digital economy and environmental sustainability.

Chong pointed out that projections by Bank Negara Malaysia and Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre have suggested that about 90,000 people would be losing their jobs and about 40 per cent of Sarawak small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are likely to close down.

“With such immediate gloomy economic outlook, it totally makes no sense for Abang Jo to talk about his vision and road map to 2030.

“Furthermore, the two core principles mentioned in his announcement, namely digital economy and environmental sustainability are nothing new. He has been talking about these two core principles since he took the helm of Sarawak in January 2017,” he added.

Citing that there are still five months or more away until the economy plan can be implemented as Sarawak Economic Action Council still needs to study data to be gathered from all stakeholders, Chong emphasised that the state government need to seriously look into immediate, short, and medium-term solutions and take immediate steps for implementation.

“This is not the time to talk about 2030 but to take concrete and effective measures to help SMEs to stay alive but which will require a lot of money and effort for implementation.

“We need to survive the current crisis before we can think about 2030,” he said.

Chong thus proposed that all measures must be taken to prevent enterprises and businesses from retrenching their workers.

“The interest-free loan provided by the state government is not sufficient. There must be direct wage subsidy for SMEs to keep their workers at this time of economic slowdown and such subsidy must be substantial to reduce the costs to businesses and so that businesses will be willing to sustain despite some losses with the hope that economy may pick up in a year or two,” he suggested.

At times of economic recession, he added that the government must inject fund to create the demand which is also time for large-scale digitalisation of all economic sectors, coaxing traditional business enterprises to embrace new technologies.

“The government must allocate fund to create the expertise and manpower to push for the digitalisation programmes (supply-side) and also give grants for businesses to go digital (demand side).

“Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA) should take full charge in coordinating this development, but must avoid ‘crowding-out’ the private IT companies. We should get all private IT companies involved in this large-scale digitalisation exercise,” he said.

He also pointed out that this is also the time to kick-start the plan to reduce the number of foreign workers by giving incentives to employers to convert from employing foreign workers to locals.

“By substituting foreign workers with locals, albeit with higher wages (which the government should shoulder some financial costs), it will also take some pressure off the local unemployment rates,” he added.—DayakDaily