Migrants need help to tap their ambitions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 January, 2009, 12:00am

There is no doubting the challenges the economic downturn is posing for the mainland. In the past 11 months, 760,000 small and medium-sized businesses have shut down, causing 7 million jobless migrant workers to flood back to their rural homes from the industrialised eastern provinces. Some have returned to find that they no longer have land to farm. The situation is a recipe for social unrest.

Authorities are well aware of the problem. It was the main reason for the 4 trillion yuan (HK$4.56 trillion) economic stimulus package announced in November. The amount seems huge, but it must be remembered that there is great uncertainty about just how deep the financial turmoil will run. Much of the funding obviously needs to be directed towards rural areas, where the majority of people live.

For all the apparent gloom, there is a modicum of hope. Migrant workers have seen first-hand the benefits of the economic miracle. They have witnessed entrepreneurship in action. The experience has surely imbued many with a desire to start businesses of their own.

Authorities have promised that a large proportion of the economic aid will go towards creating jobs. An infrastructure building boom in rural areas is in the offing. But funds have also been set aside for better medical care and subsidies for the rural poor. Another policy to be funded is encouraging the setting up of businesses through tax rebates and exemptions, and cheap loans.

With an increasing number of factories closing and the jobless rate rising, the central government has to make every effort to give flight to entrepreneurial ambitions. It has to encourage, advise on and fund such projects. Migrant workers have experienced and learned much. Those affected by the downturn have to be given every chance to make their visions become reality.