Malaysia’s unemployment rate is at a 30-year high, and it could get worse. Much, much worse. Especially if that long-rumoured second wave of Covid-19 infections becomes a reality.

In other news, two Sabah state reps break on through to the Perikatan Nasional side, our Covid-19 numbers go up, and no one can be certain if kindergartens and pre-schools are being allowed to open on July 1, or just pre-schools.

The colour of no money

From bad to worse

We’d been warned for a while how this damned pandemic and the ensuing movement curbs would result in a shitload of Malaysians losing their jobs. Now, a month on from the Department of Statistics’ last update on unemployment, we have new figures to show just how dire the situation is.

 

In case you’ve forgotten, chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin revealed last month that joblessness in the country had hit its highest mark in a decade in March, with some 610,500 people losing their jobs. In terms of percentages, this translated to an unemployment rate of 3.9%, effectively three decimal points higher than June 2010, when the rate was 3.6%.

 

Unfortunately for all of us, though, as grim as March’s reading of the figures was, April’s numbers were way worse, with the Stats Department confirming a rate spike of 5% (or 778,800 people out of work), the first time in 30 years the numbers have been that high.

 

Basically, what the statistics show is that the Movement Control Order (MCO), which was in Phase 2 and 3 in April, hit Malaysia’s workforce like a tonne of bricks. It also indicates that May’s stats, when they are eventually made public, won’t look much better, what with most businesses still not being fully operational then. 

 

Be that as it may, with so many people now back to work – as previously claimed by the government – can we expect June or indeed the remaining months of 2020 to look slightly better?

 

Well, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mustapa Mohamed, who’s been tasked with overseeing Malaysia’s economic development, believes the country’s recovery is on track, with government measures already yielding partial signs of success. 

 

We like Tok Pa’s enthusiasm and positivity. But we’re not so sure if the guy is simply refusing to raise his head from the sand and realise this situation may be beyond proactive government initiatives?

 

Like, you know, what if the world gets hit by another wave of Covid-19 infections?

 

China announced lockdowns in parts of Beijing over the weekend after new infections were detected and on Monday, Asian stock markets – the KLCI included – got pummelled. Hard. Imagine then what would happen if more cases were discovered, in China and/or elsewhere.

 

The plan, as far as our government seems to be concerned, is that the recently-launched Penjana rescue package (nama sebenar: Pelan Jana Semula Ekonomi Negara) will help make Malaysia great again save everyday Malaysians from joblessness.

Unfortunately, as we highlighted last week, despite some tasty looking tax breaks for employers, there’s no real guarantee Makcik Kiah, Madam Lee, Hj Salleh and Surjit Kaur and the rest will be provided for. And especially not, if Covid rears its head here again. 

Could defections spell Warisan's doom?

On March 3, two days after Perikatan Nasional took Putrajaya, allies of the Parti Warisan Sabah-led state government claimed its 48 assemblymen were solidly behind Chief Minister Shafie Apdal.

 

That situation, however, has changed over the last week. And not least because former CM Musa Aman, who was previously thought to be down for the count, has experienced a reversal of fortunes.

 

Musa, who saw his tenuous grip on the Sabah state government crumble after a spate of defections following the 14th general election, has always maintained he’s the rightful CM. And last week, in the immediate aftermath of the court declaring him free of 46 corruption and money laundering charges, rumours came thick and fast that the man was planning a return to power. By defections no less.

 

Shafie and Warisan, however, quickly fired back that despite the offers of prominent posts and cash on the table, the current government was solid. Thing is, that was a week ago, and well before two United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko) assemblymen revealed they’d much rather throw their lot in with Perikatan.

 

Claiming there was no undue indicement to switch sides, the two reps – Limus Jury (of Kuala Penyu) and James Ratib (Sugut) – said they were leaving Upko not just because they supported Muhyiddin Yassin as Prime Minister, but because the Sabah state government cannot afford to remain opposed to Putrajaya. 

 

Sabah, they claim, will be left behind if it remains in Opposition hands. And that’s why within the next few days, there’ll be “more following and quitting the Warisan government and party”.

 

Now, Limus and James’ defections on their own haven’t done jack to alter the balance of power ’cos the current government still has a two-thirds majority in the 60-seat state assembly. However, if more do “follow and quit”, as they claim, then yes, Warisan will be in major trouble. Of course, it’d have to be a whole helluva lot more, and not just one or two assemblymen.

 

Upko boss Wilfred Madius Tangau maintains his peeps are committed to the state government. But that was more or less the same thing said last week by Sabah’s gomen, no? Also, despite Madius being Deputy CM, there’s that small point of Upko having actually contested GE14 as a Barisan Nasional component party.

 

Upko aside, Warisan too maintains its position in the state is solid. And that is despite the persistent rumours that one of its MPs, Mohamaddin Ketapi, is on the verge of quitting to give PM Moo a much-needed boost at Federal level.

 

In short, the noises being made by the current fellas in power suggest there’s no chance of Warisan falling just yet. However, as betting men, we’d advise you to sit this round out. The only thing certain in Sabah politics is that nothing, not even an election, is a guarantee of certainty and that politicians there usually frog over to the side of whoever dangles the most money, power and prestige in front of them.

So yeah, keep your money in your pocket and watch these guys play their fiddles as Sabah burns.

Kindie confusion

He may not have treated us to a loud shirt on Monday. But Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s Covid-19 press briefing certainly served up a whole load of confusion on kindergarteners being allowed back in school.

 

According to most press reports, including one by national news agency Bernama, it is pre-schools and kindergartens nationwide that’ll be allowed to resume operations on July 1. However, certain other reports maintained that the greenlight was for preschools only

 

So what’s the difference between kindies and pre-schools? And what exactly will be allowed to open?

 

Well, Malaysia’s early childhood education system is very complex and very, very confusing, so strap in. 

 

Basically, you have taskas (short for taman asuhan kanak-kanak) which are effectively childcare centres/nurseries and meant for kids from 1-4. You also have tadikas (taman didikan kanak-kanak) or kindies, for kids 4-6 which focus on academic lessons as well as fun stuff like sand and water play. And then there’re pre-schools (pra-sekolah in Malay) which are generally for children aged 3-6 and which are meant to prep kids for formal schooling. 

 

In addition to those three, there are also tabikas (taman bimbingan kanak-kanak) which originally was kinda similar to taskas but which our gomen seems to now sometimes use interchangeably when talking about tadikas/kindergartens. Take for example tabika perpaduan which the government calls unity kindergarten in English … 

 

And if things weren’t murky enough yet, here’s a little more mud for you. Ismail Sabri’s press release and press secretary both say it’s only pre-schools and tabikas and NOT kindergartens. But the man himself, in his announcement, said “tadika” (see paragraph 4)! So which is it? And what’s the difference they draw between pre-schools and kindies?

Yeah we know, you’re now super confused and like us, have no friggin’ idea what’s actually gonna happen come July 1. We’re sorry. But hey, at least you now know a bit more about early childhood education in Malaysia, right? Also, our dear Defence Minister says the Education Ministry is due to explain the standard protocols on this latest move in due time. Which means, the current befuddlement should be cleared up soon lah.

Incidentally, there’s yet to be any indication as to when primary and secondary school kids who don’t get go back on June 24 are due to return. So like this thing with kindies/pre-schools, we guess just have to wait for clarity.

What comes down must go up!

Following one day with a single-digit increase in Covid-19 cases, we were back into double digits yesterday. However, perhaps more concerning than the spike in infections is that among the 41 cases announced is one from an old folks home where screening had previously been conducted.

 

According to Health Director-General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, two cases had been detected at the home in the middle of May and as a result, all the staff and residents there were screened. Now, however, a man previously confirmed to be A-Okay has been discovered to be not.

 

So far, 17,699 residents and staff members at 421 old folks homes nationwide have been screened for Covid-19. However, the emergence of this new-old case suggests that maybe, a do-over is in order.

 

Anyhow, despite Monday’s increase in infections and that case at the home, the fatality rate of 121 stayed the same. Even so, 4 people remain in intensive care. In terms of recoveries, meanwhile, 54 people were discharged, bringing the total number to 7,400 or 87.1% of the total number (8,494) of positive cases.

 

Here’re the rest of the important coronavirus-related odds and ends from yesterday:

  • Don’t be fooled! Except in areas under enhanced movement control, health authorities don’t do house-to-house Covid-19 swab tests. This means anyone who claims to be conducting such checks is a scammer.
     
  • All non-Muslim houses of worship in the Federal Territories can now open. The worship houses are, however, must make sure only one-third of their congregational spaces are filled.
     
  • Penang’s Holiday Inn Resort will close its doors on June 30. The hotel, which has been in business for over four decades, joins other establishments, among them Sandakan’s Four Points and Syuen Hotel in Ipoh, which have shuttered in recent months due to the ongoing pandemic.
     
  • Despite the nation’s border being shut, foreign diplomats can enter Malaysia provided they’ve been screened in their respective home countries. They will, nevertheless, be required to observe a 14-day period of isolation at home.

Odds and ends

Umno’s former and current bosses were both in court on Monday, and while the stuff that came out of their respective trials wasn’t exactly riveting, there were some interesting moments.

 

Take for example the 1Malaysia Development Berhad audit tampering trial involving Najib Razak, where two attempts for postponement were made. Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Jibby’s lawyer, had at first tried to delay proceedings based on an application to disqualify lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram. And when that didn’t work, the court was informed that a member of the defence team was coughing, feeling feverish and had gone to get a Covid-19 test done, at which point a one-day delay was granted. Seriously, man! Covid test lahAchy backside lahDog ate my homework lah. Is there any excuse these guys haven’t given yet?

 

In Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s corruption trial meanwhile, nine out of 10 bank officers told the court that some 40 transactions totalling RM25 million under scrutiny involving the former deputy prime minister appeared to be above board. Still, at least one witness noted that while the transactions appeared lawful, a customer’s intention in making a payment could not be easily determined by bank staff.

 

Anyways, court cases aside, here are some other things that also made the news:

  • Despite a denial by Saifuddin Abdullah, rumours persist that former PKR deputy president Azmin Ali and several MPs aligned with him are in the process of setting up a new party. Apparently, the new party is gonna be called Parti Keadilan Negara, which suggests its status as a PKR splinter group.
     
  • Piss off! That was Umno vice-president Khaled Nordin response to Bersatu’s Wan Saiful Wan Jan’s suggestion that Umno make sacrifices to ensure Perikatan Nasional’s success. Okay, Khaled didn’t exactly use those words but you can tell he was seething.
     
  • Umno Youth, meanwhile, has kicked up a fuss about lawyer Eric Paulsen being appointed as a member of the Communications Ministry’s consultative council. Their reason: he’s repeatedly hurt the feelings of Muslims. 
     
  • Anwar Ibrahim says he welcomes a probe into the RM30 billion lost by Bank Negara in the 1990s due to foreign exchange speculation. The PKR boss, who was Finance Minister at the time, says he’s clean as a whistle baby. 
     
  • Permodalan Nasional Bhd has confirmed that the youngest CEO in its history, 38-year-old Jalil Rasheed, has quit. By all accounts, Jalil seems to have had a rough ride since being appointed president and CEO of the national fund manager seven months ago, and his resignation comes after questions about his qualifications as well as a barrage of abuse and harassment that made him fear for his family’s safety. Jalil’s twitter thread on lessons learned in his career so far is golden, through. Worth a read.

“It's a recession when your neighbour loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours.”

- Harry S. Truman -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • According to a new study, there are at least 36 active, intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way. But most of these are so far away that we may never get in touch with them. Also, if they’re intelligent, they might prefer to stay far, far away from Earth.
     
  • Maria Ressa, CEO of Philippine new organisation Rappler has been convicted of “cyberlibel” charges. Ressa, who was charged over a story that alleged links between a businessman and a top judge, faces up to six years in jail.
     
  • Singapore will ease more lockdown restrictions this week, allowing more business and social activities to resume. The island republic has been relaxing movement curbs since May.
     
  • Beijing is reintroducing lockdown measures and starting mass testing after a new Covid-19 cluster emerged at the city’s largest wholesale market. Here’s hoping this isn’t a new wave waiting to break out. 
     
  • He’s continued to bash China, but guess what, officials there would rather have another four years of President Donald Trump than Joe Biden. But of course they would. Who wouldn’t want an orange-haired clown leading their biggest rivals instead of somebody with half a brain and half a heart?

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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