The COVID 19 pandemic continues to hit Malaysia, with now above 6,000 positive cases daily (11 June 2021) stringent measures taken by the Government since April 2020 to address the situation, including successive Movement Control Orders (MCOs). Coupled with a collapse in economic demand, these have had serious negative impacts on the incomes and livelihoods of poor and vulnerable populations but specifically those working in informal employment.
This group of workers is almost universally drawn from the bottom 40% of the income distribution (so-termed B40 households), but also includes vulnerable non-nationals (migrants and refugees) who are administratively prevented from taking formal sector jobs. They have faced a double jeopardy during the pandemic: they are first to be laid-off as they work in sectors most disrupted by movement restrictions; and second, by definition, they are not enrolled in the social security system and not therefore entitled to mandatory support. On a positive note, , the Government has provided additional emergency social assistance transfers to low income groups, specifically the B40, group by way of simple self-identification and registration process. These arrangements also provide the basis for a future basic income guarantee in line with a Social Protection Floor (and the wider Social Floor concept), which Malaysia currently lacks. We specifcally note that these programmes, like all social assistance in Malaysia, currently excludes non-nationals (migrants and refugees), documented and undocumented.
It is likely going forward, that Government will scale back this support – in the light of an initial (albeit faltering) economic recovery, and more significantly, alleged fiscal constraints. Indeed, several commentators, including the World Bank, are advocating for near term fiscal consolidation, and we note this stands in direct contrast to the counter-cyclical stance being advocated for globally by the IFIs If an austerity budget is adopted, there will be welfare as well as macroeconomic consequences. If reductions in these programmes are implemented overnight without phasing and/or alternative protections, there will likely be severe deprivations, alongside weaker aggregate demand. There are also questions over the adequacy of the existing level of support, and we note again, that these programmes are not available to non-nationals (documented or undocumented).
Under successive economic stimulus packages announced by the Government, low and middle households have received direct income support under the pre-existing BSH (in 2020), renamed the BPN programme, and then replaced with BPR in 2021 . Following a basic application process, based on self-declaration, eligible households and individuals receive cash transfers of varying amounts dependent on family size and income level. These transfers have been supplemented with other ad hoc support. Although limited, these transfers offer a lifeline. Any budgetary cuts threaten several socio-economic rights of those engaged in informal work, including the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to food, adequate housing, water, and clothing.
A crude estimate of the number of informal workers is around 3.6 million people though the Government's estimates of the informal sector are far lower than this, suggesting a figure of only 1.3 million. In addition to not being covered by social security and lacking formal employment contracts, this population is also vulnerable to excessive debt and defaults due to their low incomes. They lack savings and loan collateral and tend to meet income shortfalls by borrowing at high rates of interest. Successive shutdowns during the COVID-19 crisis have stretched their coping economic capacities to the limit.
An austerity budget also runs the risk of weakening overall aggregate demand in the economy, and slowing the recovery from the pandemic, and in turn, limiting wider employment opportunities and increasing inequality within the country. There are, therefore, macroeconomic impacts of too early and/ or too harsh a reduction in fiscal stimulus measures.
The objective of the study
Malaysia deployed large fiscal stimulus programmes in 2020 and 2021 (4% of GDP in 2020 and more than 1% of GDP in 2021, noting further recent additions in response to MCO 3.0) to both protect the vulnerable and support aggregate demand in the wider economy. Moreover, the public revenues were heavily impacted during the pandemic, and the level of national debt has risen above 60% of GDP.
Several commentators, including the international financial institutions and some policymakers, have highlighted the fiscal challenges, and are advocating for austerity measures in the near term at a time when the vulnerable are still in need of support. It is likely that any cuts would fall on the still ongoing COVID-19 direct income support measures. While recognizing the ultimate need for fiscal adjustment, a human rights approach and the macroeconomic case calls for a phased approach that secures economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) and supports wider economic recovery. There is some danger that minimum ESCR standards in Malaysia may not be met, in particular for vulnerable groups, notably workers in informal employment . It is therefore imperative to highlight and advocate against austerity measures that will have negative social outcomes for the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society, including workers in the informal sector who suffer from job loss and decreasing access to work and social welfare. The impact of such an approach would likely include their reduced ability to meet the costs of food, housing, water, medical care and other basic necessities, thereby exacerbating existing structural inequalities.
As such, austerity measures raise important concerns as they reduce spending for public services critical social welfare programmes. Consequently, this can also undercut human rights norms and threaten the most vulnerable members of society regarding the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights, including non-retrogression, progressive realization, non-discrimination, and minimum core obligations.
The Committee on ESCR has reminded States Parties to identify the minimum core content of rights or social protection floor as developed by ILO and ensure the protection of these core content even during a serious economic crisis. The Committee has also reminded States Parties' obligations to respect, protect, fulfil economic and cultural rights progressively using their maximum available resources.
Where austerity measures result in retrogressive steps affecting the realization or implementation of human rights, the burden of proof shifts to the implementing State to provide justification for such retrogressive measures. Therefore, in ensuring compliance with their human rights obligations when adopting austerity measures, States should demonstrate: (1) the existence of a compelling State interest; (2) the necessity, reasonableness, temporariness and proportionality of the austerity measures; (3) the exhaustion of alternative and less restrictive measures; (4) the non-discriminatory nature of the proposed measures; (5) protection of minimum core content of the rights; and (6) genuine participation of affected groups and individuals in decision-making processes.
The objective of the study is to provide evidence to support the case for a properly phased, and human rights-complaint, approach to fiscal consolidation, specifically referring to the right to social security and the likely impact on those in informal employment if basic support measures are discontinued. The study would also examine the adequacy of the current support measures in terms of compensation and coverage (notably for excluded groups of workers including non-nationals).
The longer-term desired outcome is the development of a new social contract that addresses the need for social security coverage for those in informal employment. This speaks to the ongoing lack of coverage of Malaysia's vulnerable group of workers, swelled further by the growth of the gig economy.
Activities and steps
It is envisaged that there would be three stages to the project, linked to the national budget timeline (to December 2021):
(1) Analyze existing ESCR standards, and SDG targets, applied to social security, drawing on the provisions of the UDHR and the recommendations of international human rights mechanisms, including ESCR committee, UPR and treaty body recommendations, and the VNR on SDG Progress (2021). This should focus on informal workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and include analysis to determine if core rights are being protected effectively for this population (and subpopulations, including non-nationals).
(2) Undertake basic macroeconomic and budget analysis - of the likely 2022 budget scenario and the level of fiscal space in 2022, and the costs of maintaining the key programmes (including expansion to excluded groups). This is to examine key assumptions employed by Government and the choices faced, referencing impacts on the poor and vulnerable, but also the likely macroeconomic implications.
(3) Analyze the emerging budget proposals from a rights perspective, gauge the impacts (though simulations if possible), and check that any austerity measures ensure compliance with Malaysia's human rights obligations. Specifically, these demonstrate: (1) the existence of a compelling State interest; (2) the necessity, reasonableness, temporariness, and proportionality of the austerity measures; (3) the exhaustion of alternative and less restrictive measures; (4) the non-discriminatory nature of the proposed measures; (5) protection of minimum core content of the rights; and (6) genuine participation of affected groups and individuals in decision-making processes. Resultingly also, offer remedies or alternative policy proposals that enables maintenance of basic incomes via the right to social security.
Efforts throughout would seek to avoid policy disputes with Government, recognizing ESCR rights successes, as well as the challenges faced, including their provision of exceptional COVID-19 support. Moreover, we would seek to deliver win-win solutions, working with sympathetic actors in Government, specifically leveraging the macroeconomic case to also enable an extension of direct income support.
 Note: even documented migrants only have access to contributory social insurance usually through employment in the formal sector; refugees, while documented, are excluded from formal work also.
 See for example: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-imf/spend-as-much-as-you-can-imf-head-urges-governments-worldwide-idUSKBN29K1XJ
 Per UN estimates - see original concept note and project submission.
 See: https://www.dosm.gov.my/v1/uploads/files/6_Newsletter/Newsletter%202020/DOSM_BPTMS_3-2020_Series-51.pdf
 See also: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/HR-PUB-14-1_en.pdf . We also note that, throughout non-nationals includes migrants and refugees, documented and undocumented.
Scope of Work
The consultants/team will work under the direct supervision of the UN Human Rights Adviser and Senior Economist at the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator. The consultant will also closely collaborate with other UN agencies (including OHCHR’s Surge Team and other OHCHR units), development partners, the private sector, the informal sector, civil society organizations, technical advisors and experts, and multilateral and bilateral donors.
The methodology should be proposed by the consultant team. However, we envisage the approach would follow the three steps given above, drawing on different tools and techniques linking to the budget timeline.
(1) The approach would begin by researching the human rights context and benchmarking/ defining what rights-based provision implies in terms of budget cost norms. This will require inputs from the Government and civil society. The developmental and fiscal context are also considerations in arriving at core standards. This stage also requires an appraisal of the existing (BSH/ BPR/ BPN) transfers for their adequacy and coverage.
(2) Second, fiscal analysis is required drawing on published materials and general macroeconomic conditions to reach a view on fiscal space. This stage also requires some basic costing of the programmes – as currently delivered and with any changes revealed at stage (1). This should set the scene for the budget. At this stage, a policy brief may be issued to announce the work and signal the key issues (assumed to take place during budget preparation).
(3) Finally, the emerging budget proposals would be analyzed, including their impacts on the vulnerable. These might be simulated possibly employing the Social Accounting Matrix (SAM) for Malaysia (i.e. via macro simulations) or via micro-simulation using household income and expenditure datasets. Simulated impacts should also be compared against ECSR requirements. This final stage should take place around the time of the national budget deliberations.
Refer also to the activities/ steps, timeline, and methodology sections, also noting the links to the national budget formulation and adoption process. We envisage a three-stage process as given above, with deliverable associated with this, but we note additionally: The consultant will submit an inception report after taking up the assignment, which will help facilitate a common understanding among the stakeholders and the consultant about the project. It will also assist with scoping and planning key actions/deliverables and timelines.
- The final deliverable (stage 3) would be a formal analytical report and a set of policy recommendations for ESCR rights-compliant budget proposals and fiscal adjustment. This should be delivered in time for the final budget deliberations in December.
- Earlier policy recommendations may be required following stage 2 below – in the form of guidance/ briefing and/ or an advocacy piece. The deliverers may also be required to present to the UN, Government, and other stakeholders, during one and potentially two (virtual) events.
Estimated timeline and payments
% of Payment
Submission of inception report
30 July 2021
Analysis of Socio-economic rights basic standards in Malaysia (related to social security)
31 August 2021
Summary macroeconomic and budget analyses
30 October 2021
Final report, in publishable format
15 December 2021
 This assignment is grant funded by the OHCHR’s Surge Initiative - The High Commissioner for Human Rights launched this Initiative to scale-up and cross-fertilize engagement in the SDGs and human rights.
An individual or individual leading a team of qualified professionals (Economists, Social scientists etc.)
- Advanced university degree (Master's degree or equivalent) in: Economics statistics, accounting/ finance, or other social sciences.
- Min 5 years of experience in knowledge of human rights provisions, specifically ESCRs and if possible, their application within economic context.
- A combination of relevant academic background (Bachelor's degree or equivalent) and extensive relevant professional experience in a related area may be accepted in lieu of advanced university degree.
- Excellent knowledge and skills in design and implementation of impact assessment methodologies, rapid impact assessment, participation.
- Demonstrate negotiation skills and experience of engaging with strategic partners (national and subnational government, parliament, public finance institutions, UN Agencies, IFIs, bilateral and multilateral donors, the private sector, civil society, media).
- Fluency in written and spoken English/Bahasa is essential.
- Ability to write high-quality reports, make impactful presentations, design, and deliver audience-focused trainings, etc.
DOCUMENTS TO BE INCLUDED WHEN SUBMITTING THE PROPOSALS
Interested individual applicants must submit the following documents/information to demonstrate their qualifications:
- Document 1 : Letter of Confirmation of Interest and Availability (Annex 1) provided by UNDP;https://www.my.undp.org/content/dam/malaysia/docs/Procurement/Letter%20of%20Interest%20_Annex%201.docx?download
- Document 2: Technical Proposal: Brief description of why the individual considers themselves as the most suitable for the assignment, including portfolio/evidence of past work, testimonies from past collaborators and/or employers, proposed partners or collaborators (individuals or organizations), and a brief methodology on how they will approach and complete the assignment;
- Document 3: Financial Proposal that indicates the all-inclusive fixed total contract price, supported by a breakdown of costs, as per template provided. If an Offeror is employed by an organization/company/institution and expects his/her employer to charge a management fee in the process of releasing him/her to UNDP under Reimbursable Loan Agreement (RLA), the Offeror must indicate at this point and ensure that all such costs are duly incorporated in the financial proposal submitted to UNDP, https://www.my.undp.org/content/dam/malaysia/docs/Procurement/Financial Proposal Template-Deliverables_MYR_IC2021-023.doc
- Document 4: Personal CV / P11 including past experience in similar projects and at least 3 references https://www.my.undp.org/content/dam/malaysia/docs/Procurement/P11 for Consultant_Optional.docx
- Please submit this information in one file as Document 1, 2, 3 and 4.
- Candidates who fail to submit all the information requested above will be disqualified.
How to Apply:
- Kindly download the Letter of Confirmation of interest and availability, Financial Proposal Template and General Terms & Conditions mentioned below;
- Read and agree to the General Terms & Conditions;
- Click the ‘apply’ icon and complete what is required;
- Scan all documents into 1 pdf folder and then upload;
- For clarification question, please email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The clarification question deadline is three (3) days before the closing. When emailing for clarification questions, please put "MyIC/2021/023" as the subject matter.
General terms & conditions to be downloaded:
Reimbursable Loan Agreement (RLA): A legal instrument between UNDP and a Company/institution, according to which, the latter makes available the services of an individual delivering time-bound and quantifiable outputs that are directly linked to payments
Incomplete proposals may not be considered. Only short-listed candidates may be contacted, and successful candidates will be notified.
Kindly note that the system will only accept one attachment , please merge all documents and submit as one file.
Evaluation method and criteria
Only candidates that are responsive and compliant will be evaluated. Individual Consultants will be evaluated based on the following methodology:
The offers that will be received shall be evaluated based on the Combined Scoring method – where the qualifications and methodology will be weighted a max. of 70% and combined with the price offer, which will be weighted a max of 30%.