Webinar on “COVID-19 Economic Stimulus in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand: Country Experiences and Lessons Learned”

In this webinar, Dr Melati Nungsari, Mr Terence Ho and Dr Archanun Kohpaiboon explored Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand’s economic policy responses to COVID-19.


Friday, 1 October 2021 – ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a webinar on “COVID-19 Economic Stimulus in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand: Country Experiences and Lessons Learned”. The Malaysian perspective was delivered by Dr Melati Nungsari, an Assistant Professor of Economics at Asia School of Business, and Research Affiliate at MIT Sloan School of Management. Then, Mr Terence Ho, Associate Professor in Practice at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, provided us a glimpse into Singapore’s experience, followed by Dr Achanun Kohpaiboon, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Economics, Thammasat University, with Thailand’s perspective.

This webinar series is supported by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

Dr Melati Nungsari elaborated on some of the stimulus packages that were distributed and their effectiveness. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Malaysia: Dr Melati began her presentation on the trend of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia. According to the stringency index, the country observed the highest closures as compared with Thailand and Singapore. She highlighted the significant political turmoil that Malaysia underwent during the course of the pandemic. The country had been in a state of emergency from January 12th 2021 to August 1st 2021, during which important discussions surrounding COVID-19 management, economic stimulus and relief were not debated as parliament was not in session. On top of that, there were certain pre-existing conditions that exacerbated the effects of the pandemic: youth and graduate unemployment, rise of the gig economy, a large undocumented population, and inequality.

Next, Dr Melati elaborated on some of the stimulus packages that were distributed and their effectiveness. Under the Perikatan Nasional Government, Malaysia had 8 stimulus packages valued at approximately USD$127 billion. However, only about 16% of this was direct fiscal injections into the economy. Additionally, there were some “core policies” that were enacted and repeated through a number of stimulus packages, while some packages were targeted to specific parts of the economy such as SMEs. Dr Melati observed that large groups of individuals still fell through the cracks, namely, stateless Malaysians and indigenous people. She highlighted that it was systemic, existing problems that complicated the implementation of relief packages. To sum up her presentation, she listed several long-term consequences of the pandemic and suggested that additional effort is necessary on top of stimulus and aid packages in order to mitigate issues on the ground.

Mr Terence Ho shared that these stimulus packages may have contributed to inequality in Singapore. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Singapore: Mr Terence Ho began his presentation with 2020 labour market outcomes. Compared with previous financial crisis and disease outbreaks, the incidence of retrenchment observed during the COVID-19 pandemic is considerably lower. He highlighted several schemes that were introduced and enhanced to aid the employment market: Job Support Scheme, Self-Employed Training Support Scheme and Wage Credit Scheme were among the few. Aside from monetary relief, jobs and skills packages were created to provide more opportunities for employment. Additionally, households and individuals received several pay-outs, credits, rebates and grants based on criteria such as income/property value thresholds and income loss incurred.  The total cost of these support measures amounted to S$92.9 billion across the 5 budgets, with S$52 billion drawn from past reserves, which incurred the largest budget deficit in Singapore’s history. According to government estimates, the support measures helped avert a rise in resident unemployment rate of about 1.7% points, and prevented the economy from contracting further.  

Despite the economic relief, Mr Ho shared that these stimulus packages may have contributed to inequality. There is an uneven economic impact across sectors and occupations, namely travel, tourism, F&B and retail which have been hit hardest. Moreover, the impact of job and income loss is disproportionate among the lower income and those with less savings. Small businesses less equipped with digital capabilities to tap on e-commerce are more affected than SMEs, which is where most of the support is directed. He also observed that wealth inequality widened as property and asset prices soared, fuelled by low interest rates from unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus in the US and across the world. This is evident from Singapore’s Private Residential Property Price Index breaching an all-time high in Q4 2020, while the HDB Resale Price Index remained within touching distance of its all-time high in Q2 2021. The presentation concluded with emphasis on the need for social policies. He suggested measures to boost income of lower-wage workers, such as an expansion of the Progressive Wage Model to cover more than 8 in 10 lower-wage workers, and medium-term support for those who have incurred loss of jobs and/or income in the form of unemployment insurance, wage loss insurance or a savings scheme.

Dr Archanun Kohpaiboon explained that Thailand has a proportionately very large tourism sector, which has been devastated by the pandemic and needs the most relief. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Thailand: Dr Kohpaiboon began his presentation with a brief introduction of the COVID-19 situation in Thailand. He highlighted 3 waves of Covid-infected cases: the first wave occurred from 15 March 2020 to 30 April 2020, the second wave from 15 December 2020 to 15 March 2021 and the third wave that started on 5 April 2021 and is still occurring to date. Next, he cited 2 main reasons why there was a need for large fiscal injection for the country. Thailand has a proportionately very large tourism sector, which has been devastated by the pandemic and needs the most relief. There is also sizable informal employment, which makes it necessary to provide additional relief for households. Collectively, based on the Statistica database as of September 2021, the country ranks third in the world for providing the most Economic Relief and Stimulus Package.

Dr Archanun elaborated on the package and how it was distributed during the 3 waves cited earlier. There are 3 main components of the package: a $1 trillion economic relief and stimulus, soft loan packages by the Bank of Thailand and other state-owned banks, and a mix of economic relief and stimulus. However, he found that until recently there was a lack of schemes assisting firms in keeping their workers. Moreover, the amount of assistance was limited and delivered late. More pressingly, sector-specific assistance, especially for the tourism sector, was very limited and inadequate to cushion the economic hardship. Dr Archanun capped off his presentation by discussing upcoming challenges that he foresees. The impact of policies on cushioning hardship depends on how the new borrowing is spent, while liquidity constraints and the technological leapfrogging reform agenda may impede exports. He suggests that increasing employment ought to be the top policy priority for economic recovery.

The webinar concluded with the panelists answering questions posed by the audience, such as the likelihood of continued provision of stimulus aid in the three countries, and other forms of support that can be provided for parents and education systems.

Mr Christian Echle opened the session with the Welcome Remarks. With Dr Lee Hwok Aun as moderator of the panel. Over 100 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)