Letter: Second phase of MCO should be better planned

Thomas Zacharia George

Modified 1 Apr 2020, 3:32 am

LETTER | The government’s RM250 billion stimulus package, which was announced on March 27 by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, will be useful and beneficial for the country that is facing an unprecedented lockdown of the community due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The movement control order (MCO) has effectively confined the people to their homes except for the head of the household being allowed to buy essentials for the family.

An important point that needs to be considered is what happens when the government credits the RM1,000 to the B40 recipients in early April when the supposedly stricter second phase of the MCO is to be in force. A large number of them, possibly in the millions, will have to queue up at the banks and ATMs and subsequently head to supermarkets, wet markets and sundry shop to stock up the much needed essential items. 

The M40 too will also be out to stock up on provisions for the month. Others too will be receiving their salaries early April. This will mean that large numbers of people will have to congregate at these places, which is very much against the intention of the MCO. How is the government going to manage the crowds in the banks and markets? Essential items have started to run out and replenishing them is usually done at the beginning of the month.

If this situation is not handled properly the MCO and social distancing and other procedures will be useless as the Covid-19 remains a risk for all. Furthermore, supplies of essential consumer items such as rice, flour, cooking oil bread, fish, meat, vegetables, fruits and others need to be increased in tandem with the payout to ensure that there are no bottlenecks, shortages, panic buying or waste. 

It will be a plus point for the government if the second phase of the MCO was better handled than the first one which was more of a learning phase through trial and error as the country had not undergone anything like this before.

The government can assist the M40 group further apart from the stimulus package by asking Bank Negara to implement pro-SME measures like reduction of bank interest rates and being liberal with bank loans to help revive the SME sector as it is the most vital sector employing millions of workers for both domestic consumption and exports.

More incentives can be provided as and when the need arises for the SME sector as it is impossible to assess the loss of business and earnings right now. This sector must be given preferential treatment by the government if the economy is to spring back into action. A high percentage of the M40 belong to this group and they can be regarded as the live wire of the country.

It is surprising that the foreign workers' issue was not commented upon by the prime minister. There are about two million registered foreign workers and about one to four million undocumented ones. The government could have done something for the registered workers who are also forced to stay at home and deprived of any income. 

Possibly the government could have reduced the next renewal levy by 50 percent considering that these workers are law-abiding and doing the 3D jobs. The government could also have placed limits to the amount remitted to their homelands for the next six months. This could increase their domestic consumption. 

An amnesty programme too should be considered as a large number of them could remain jobless, without food or shelter. No penalty or conditions should be imposed for this amnesty and it could lead to large numbers voluntarily going back to Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and other countries. 

The unregistered workers are a ticking time bomb during the present crisis as even if the Covid-19 infections are reduced to a minimum among Malaysians, there is always the possibility of the Covid-19 remaining endemic amongst this group due to their lack of hygiene and crowded homes. 

It will be wise and prudent to send them back home and they could come back during better times as properly documented workers. 

The government should immediately stop all efforts to recruit foreign workers in large number but instead ensure that all Malaysians are employed as the immediate and short term future of the country could be one of mass unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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