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Stop playing politics with the lives of Penangites

Stop playing politics with the lives of Penangites

Published by The Malaysian Insight • 25/06/2021 • 12:19 pm

AS the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern in the population at large and among certain groups in particular, such as older adults, care providers and people with underlying health conditions. In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety.


But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to rise.


Against this backdrop, the Statistics Department revealed that the impact of Covid-19 on the Malaysian economy can be seen via a high unemployment rate and the depreciation in the Malaysian ringgit against the US dollar. In January last year, the unemployment rate was at 3.2% but there was a continuous increase in the unemployment rate until May and it reached 5.3%.


Companies have to terminate employments to cut costs as they may no longer have sufficient funds to pay their workers, despite government incentives. Such situations instigate fear, worry and anxiety, which lead to stress and depression in an individual. In view of the pandemic, rates of suicide and suicidal behaviour have risen. According to police statistics, 266 people took their lives between March 18 and October 30 last year. In Penang alone, between January and May this year, there were 53 suicides and 19 attempted suicides. Add on to this stress are the economic hardships, which have seen businesses closing shop and people being laid off.


Financial stress can be deadly as it has an impact on a person’s psychological and physical health. The thought of losing your job and the worry of trying to make ends meet can really drive a person to the edge. What more when a person loses his or her self esteem when they lose their job. The bottomline is, “People need jobs”. Without jobs people are not going to have income to survive and this is going to drive them to the edge.


As businesses continue to lay off people, we need some kind of economic activity to not just stimulate the economy but also offer stress busting jobs that would give financial security to them in a time such as this. I really can’t fathom why the Penang civil society groups and state opposition parties are against the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project.


The PSR is supposed to breathe life into Penang at a time when we are suffocating economically from the effects brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Why cut that lifeline? An estimated 15,000 job opportunities are expected to be created once the reclamation of Island A for PSR starts. The initial three years to reclaim half of Island A (485ha) will generate about 5,000 jobs.


The number of jobs created will gradually hit 15,000 as the other half of the reclamation is carried out. The creation of the three islands is expected to generate over 300,000 jobs by 2050. The fishermen and their children are going to be among those who are going to enjoy employment opportunities in the PSR.


Yet the groups that claim to represent civil society in Penang are working hand in hand with the state opposition to derail the PSR. Are these groups and political parties sending the message to the Perikatan Nasional federal government and to the Department of Environment that they would be looked upon as incompetent if they give the go-ahead for the PSR?


The objective of both the civil societies and state opposition is simple. Derail the PSR and get the Penang voters to turn their backs on the DAP-led Pakatan Harapan government out of frustration. An interesting point to note here is that there are civil and politicians who are not even based or living in Penang who are opposing the PSR, which is also needed to fund the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) – something most Penangites want.


The ordinary Penangite is already struggling with the stress of trying to put food on the table and yet the people behind these civil society groups are affluent and have comfortable lives. They appear to have so much time and energy to oppose the PSR and the PTMP, a luxury that the struggling ordinary Penangite doesn’t have. Some people behind these civil societies are rich foreigners who want Penang to be locked in time in the nostalgia of 1960s Penang for their satisfaction.


The people behind these groups and political parties don’t feel the pain the ordinary Penangite undergoes daily. In the meantime, we are going to see more Penangites having financial, psychological and health issues brought about by stress where some may see ending their lives as a means to end their suffering. These politicians and civil societies don’t feel and understand what the ordinary Penangite is experiencing. They don’t even provide any tangible support in any form to alleviate the hardships of Penangites such as the fishermen in the south of Penang Island whom they claim to champion.


These fishermen are instead made to be their poster boys to further their own agendas. It is indeed mind-blowing to hear a suggestion from a civil society group wanting industries to relocate to Kulim instead of going ahead with the PSR. Don’t they realise what this is going to do to Penang’s economy and the employment prospects of Penangites?


At the end of the day, expect more Penangites to get more stressed and depressed because of not having jobs and income and eventually choose to commit suicide. Frighteningly, someone whom you love or know may end up being part of this unwanted statistic.


If these organisations and politicians opposing the PSR and PTMP succeed in getting them cancelled, they will be depriving Penangites of a chance to earn a living to survive and indirectly drive more to commit suicide.


My appeal to these groups and politicians is to stop playing politics with the lives of Penangites. – June 25, 2021.


* Magima Raj Pragasam reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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