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ATimes: Malaysia's Electronics Fuse Is Blown [Recession]
By Anil Netto
20/7/2001 4:30 pm Fri
[Malaysia terlalu bergantung kepada sektor elektronik dan
IT untuk menggerak ekonomi seolah-olah ia tidak mungkin
terjejas satu ketika nanti. Kini penguncupan pasaran IT
menyebabkan beribu-ribu rakyat kelas bawahan tergugat hidup
mereka. Bukan itu sahaja, ia kini telah memberi kesan yang
amat dahsyat kepada ekonomi sehingga MIER memotong lagi kadar
pertumbuhan. Bayangkan tahun lepas 8.5% tapi kini 2.2% sahaja.
Itu kemerosotan hampir 4 kali ganda!
Kerajaan amat lambat bertindak dan sentiasa merasa optimis
sedangkan fenomena ini sudah lama diramalkan oleh analis
ekonomi. Kita telah lama merakam perkara ini di KM2 tetapi
Mahathir tetap berkeras dengan kedegilannya itu. Kawalan
matawang Mahathir menyebabkan pengilang di negara ini semakin
sukar untuk menjual barangan mereka kerana nilai matawang
serantau/saingan lebih murah. Patutlah ada kilang yang gulung
tikar terus atau berhijrah sahaja ke China. Mahathir tidak
memperdulikan rungutan mereka sedangkan merekalah yang menolong
Malaysia ketika krisis ekonomi dulu.
By Anil Netto
PENANG - The hidden underclass are feeling the brunt of the
current Asian slowdown, which has afflicted countries that rely
heavily on electronic exports.
The Malaysian Institute of Economic Research has announced
that it is slashing Malaysia's economic growth forecast for 2001
to 2.2 percent from its previous estimate of 4 percent made in
April. Last year, the economy grew by 8.5 percent. The scaling
down of growth forecasts marks a trend that is repeated
across East Asia as the slowdown in the United States bites
into the region. The United States accounts for 25 percent of
East Asia's exports - a trend that was a plus in good times, but
has now become a weakness.
Throughout East Asia, first-quarter growth rates have fallen in
countries like Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines
and Hong Kong, as growth prospects in electronic and related
Since 1989, the United States has accumulated a trade deficit
of US$2 trillion, and some three-quarters of this is with East
Asia. Analysts say the flight of East Asian current account
surpluses to the United States since 1998 fueled a liquidity
boom that enabled the information technology (IT) bubble to
build up. This in turn led to increased IT spending with East Asia
a key beneficiary. But the rapid expansion in IT capacity also
trimmed margins and frightened investors from lending more
money to these firms, triggering weaker demand and lower
Unless demand for electronics picks up, the region is headed for
difficult months ahead. Beyond the trimmed-down growth
estimates, this means low-income workers bearing the effects
of the region's slump.
A trade union leader has predicted that 90,000 Malaysians could
lose their jobs this year. "At least half of that figure is likely to
come from Penang," says Toh Kin Woon, a ruling coalition
politician who heads the state government's economic recovery
task force. So far, in Penang alone, 10,000 jobs have been lost.
At last count, 53 firms in the state had frozen salaries, waived
staff bonuses, shed workers, shut down plants temporarily or
folded completely, according to Toh.
"A lot of multinational companies are holding on and not
retrenching workers, and instead resorting to cost-cutting
measures, hoping that the pick-up will come by the end of the
year or early next year," observes Toh. "If the pick-up does not
happen, we will have to brace ourselves for the worst."
No companies are recruiting workers, and if at all they are, it is
on a very limited scale. Toh estimates that unemployment in
Penang has already reached 4-5 percent, which is unusual for a
place accustomed to full employment. The figure is likely to climb.
Much of the problem stems from Malaysia's heavy reliance on
electronics, which account for 60 percent of total exports,
despite a fairly diversified economy with strong agricultural
commodities and petroleum sectors. "But the weak external
demand [for electronics] is beyond our control," says Toh,
noting that consumption spending and foreign direct
investment have also dipped.
Penang, the "Silicon Island" state of Malaysia, so-called for its
dozens of electronic multinational giants and their supporting
industries, has become one of the epicenters of the regional
slowdown. Among the working class, jobs have been lost,
salaries cut, bonuses trimmed, and overtime work slashed.
Angelina Khoo, a human resources manager with a multinational
electronics firm, works a four-day week now, while production
workers lose one week's work every month. "It's especially bad
for the production workers," she says, pointing out that many
of them are now in debt and are struggling to pay even house
rents and hire-purchase installments.
Most workers had based their personal budgets on gross
income including overtime and production target incentives,
which have now evaporated. Some workers who used to earn
800 ringgit (US$211) monthly are now taking home just 200
ringgit, notes Khoo. The bad times have forced many workers
to return to their home villages to work in the fields, she says.
In Butterworth on mainland Penang, Krishnaveeni Ramiah is
jobless. Like a growing number of Malaysians bearing the brunt
of the Asian economic slowdown due to a dip in overseas
demand for electronic and technology goods, Krishnaveeni has
just been thrown out of work. For 15 years, she was a quality
control employee at a moulding firm that made the casings for
personal computers and radios. Then she received notification
that the firm had been placed under receivership and that her
services were no longer required.
There was no compensation. The letter added that her remaining
accrued wages and compensation would only be paid once the
firm's assets had been disposed of. To make matters worse, the
money that her employers had deducted from her wages for
monthly statutory contributions to the state-run retirement
savings fund had not been credited to her retirement savings
account for the last eight months.
"I have inquired at so many factories," the mother of two young
children says, "but there are no vacancies."
(Inter Press Service)