I confess that I have a box of face masks at my reception table where I keep my house and car keys. I will not leave my house without taking a face mask with me. On occasions when I forget, the backup supply found in my car and office bag does come in handy. I am not kiasu, I am kiasi.
The face mask is now part of my life, daily wear and routine. If I want to stay active, going out for meetings and visiting my favourite food stalls and restaurants, I know wearing a face mask and having hand sanitisers with me will help reduce the chances of being infected by the coronavirus. Life goes on. We all just have to live with it, managing the risk as the world adjust to the new norm.
The Health Ministry has been giving good advice to the government: first an early lockdown to flatten the curve, then the border control, a compulsory quarantine and the quick response to identify clusters, contact and trace all leading to a successful campaign to control the spread of the virus.
Over the past six months, the Home Ministry, however, has made some bizarre decisions that has not been helpful towards an economic recovery. The latest ruling on border control to blanket ban citizens from 23 countries is one of them.
There were so many complaints by professionals with long working passes of not being able to come back after traveling for business meetings even though many are willing to serve the compulsory two-week quarantine upon return. Professional engineers and specialist from these countries who are needed to start new machines have been denied entry and this has caused unnecessary delay to factory production schedules. That decision, thankfully, has been reversed and now expats, skilled visit pass holders, students, spouses and permanent residents are allowed in.
Long-term residents from My Malaysia Second Home are also refused entry and these retirees have invested their money and time to stay in our country. They should be treated with respect and courtesy like any Malaysian citizens, let them return, take the Covid-19 test at the airports, serve the mandatory two-week quarantine at a hotel and then allow them to go home.
What is the SOP for getting permission from the Immigration Department? You can only write in to the two email addresses and hope for the best. Approvals or replies will come in one to three weeks. It is difficult to plan a business trip on such uncertainty. Can we hope for a decision within three days?
Cinemas have to practise alternate seating thus reducing capacity by 50% but airlines do not need to. Have you seen the sardine packed crowds at mamak shops and night markets lately? If everybody wears mask and practises hand sanitising then the risk is reduced substantially.
Just as we impose restrictions on countries with a high number of Covid-19 cases, we should also relax immigration rules with “safe” countries that manage the Covid-19 situation as well if not better than us. If we want to save our tourism industry, I would recommend we establish a green lane bubble with China to bring in the Chinese tourists. The early bird catches the worm.
Not only will it kickstart the international routes for our airlines, the multiplier-effect on economic benefits cascading down to hotels, tourist guides and transportation will be immense. As the Chinese tourists are currently the biggest spenders in the world, our airlines, shopping malls, shops and restaurants will see re-employment of a few hundred thousand workers.
Yes, there is always a risk but with smart planning and strict safety protocols, the immense economic benefits that it brings will be well worth taking the calculated risks.
Even though there is good recovery on our domestic front for many sectors of our economy, most companies are still 30% to 50% below pre-Covid-19 revenue.
If total consumption has fallen by 30% year-to-date, the lost sales are not recoverable. The global supply chain will have a negative 30% setback from consumption to distribution to production. As we speak, purchases have been delayed or postponed to next year.
Civil servants and politicians do not understand the difficulties faced by businesses, especially the SMEs as no MPs and civil servants have suffered from pay cuts and retrenchments. It is imperative that prior to issuing new movement control orders, the Home Minister should consult the business community to gather relevant feedback on the consequences of such rulings. As no bright ideas have emerged from the Trade Ministry and Tourism Ministry, the business community will continue to suffer in silence.
With massive unemployment looming, the Human Resource Ministry has been mute as to re-allocating the unemployed to sectors that are still employing.
A central data base of companies that are looking to employ people should be set up for the public.
The electronic and glove industries are doing well and expanding. Logistics and e-commerce sectors are booming and the soon-to-be-opened Cainiao Global in Sepang will be employing thousands of employees across all levels. Cainiao is the global logistic arm of Alibaba Group.
What the government has to do is to offer as much assistance as possible to the business community, not restrictive anti-business rulings. As my good friend, Sang Hoe told me over dinner last night, it is crucial during a recession, that the government must step up, show leadership and offer hope to its citizens.
To the suffering SME owners, do not lose hope. With help and empathy from your understanding bankers, you will survive and pull through, with or without government help. I am assuming you have sorted out the loan moratorium with your bankers. The clock is ticking.
Anyway hope for the best and the bankers will do the rest.
Tan Thiam Hock is a successful businnessman. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.