Insight - We must not lose this fight


Mustapa Mohamed, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economic Affairs): Two camps have emerged. One is adamant that there should be a re-implementation of a full lockdown. The other prefers a more targeted approach with stricter enforcement. The trade-off between lives and livelihoods; between the health of the rakyat and the economy; and between safety restrictions and the freedom of movement has not been easy to balance. Our government faces the challenge of balancing two competing, seemingly contradictory imperatives. Any decision is bound to make someone unhappy.

AS Malaysia faces down another Covid-19 spike, there is ongoing debate about what the government should do to stem the tide.

Two camps have emerged. One is adamant that there should be a re-implementation of a full lockdown. The other prefers a more targeted approach with stricter enforcement.

The trade-off between lives and livelihoods; between the health of the rakyat and the economy; and between safety restrictions and the freedom of movement has not been easy to balance.

Our government faces the challenge of balancing two competing, seemingly contradictory imperatives.

Any decision is bound to make someone unhappy.

The decision making process has been tough. This is compounded by the powerful influence of social media, which has admittedly produced some constructive suggestions. However, these are often buried beneath the fake news and vulgar trolling that drives negative sentiments.

The National Security Council (MKN) has been inclusive in its deliberations, which include key ministers, government officials and chief ministers.

Besides the federal government, the chief ministers of Selangor and Penang are also in the MKN, as are all their fellow state government heads, regardless of political party.

There have also been consultations with the private sector.

Last Friday, the decision was made that from May 25 to June 7, the standard operating procedures (SOPs) of the movement control order (MCO) would be tightened while most economic activities could continue relatively unabated, subject to shorter working hours and more employees working from home.

This has proven somewhat unpopular on social media, with many calling the government’s policies half-baked and neither here nor there.

However, these critics must consider what would happen if we were to implement another total lockdown à la MCO 1.0.

Our fellow Malaysians in rural areas and urban low-cost housing flats, as well as those working in sectors that have been badly affected by the pandemic, such as tourism and the informal sector, would suffer more than other Malaysians. A less restrictive approach gives them some respite.

It is quite clear that a full lockdown would not only delay the pace of economic recovery but put many more Malaysians, especially the vulnerable, in unbearable circumstances.

Indeed, a total lockdown would most certainly derail our economic growth, forecast to be between 6% and 7.5% this year.

A widely shared sentiment has been that our targeted MCO makes small business people, such as petty traders, suffer disproportionately more compared to multinational corporations (MNCs), listed companies and the owners of large factories.

As always, the situation is not as straightforward as it seems.

Factories and large MNCs are linked to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), who provide them the materials they need to produce goods.

Some factories operate 24/7. Forced closures could mean a permanent loss of business to foreign competitors, thereby crippling not only bigger firms but the SMEs who rely on them.

SMEs and bigger firms, whether local or foreign, are interdependent in the supply chain. They rely on each other.

Another factor to take into consideration is that during the first MCO, many SMEs had reserves they could tap into. These are most certainly depleted by now. Another full lockdown would all but guarantee that these firms go bust.

The only way to beat this pandemic is to employ a whole-of-nation approach. The government, private sector and the rakyat need to be in step with each other to systematically achieve herd immunity and keep Covid-19 at bay.

While the government appreciates the criticisms that have been levied against it, ultimately, the power to curb Covid-19 rests with every single one of us.

All of us should ask ourselves whether we have been complying with the SOPs and whether we have done all we can to stop the spread of this deadly virus.

Now is not the time to score political points. This is not a game of one upmanship. This is about the country’s survival and our future.

Let us be objective and rational in criticising the government. The anger is understandable but we must focus on solutions and on the future.

At this critical juncture in our nation’s history, we need good, constructive, fresh ideas, not just endless criticism.

This is not your run-of-the-mill crisis. This is far more complicated than the Asian Financial Crisis of 1998 and the Great Recession of 2008.

Unity, especially in a time of national stress and uncertainty, is paramount. We must regain and rebuild our trust in each other.

The situation is fluid and dynamic and we have to be prepared, should our hospital capacity reaches its limits, to go into a full lockdown.

As we weather through the current crisis, however, we must also prepare for a future where the pandemic is under control.

As the Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin stated over the weekend, our focus is now on ramping up the vaccination rate.

Even though global supply constraints have resulted in a delay in vaccination, we have been able to continuously increase capacity with 95,000 doses administered on May 24,2021 alone.

We are also working to address vaccine hesitancy or problems with access. Incidents like 10,000 people in Kelantan not showing up for their appointments, whatever their reasons, must not recur.

So please, register to get vaccinated and ensure that you turn up when you are called.

The vaccination programme is our ticket back to normality and recovery. The government understands that the quicker we vaccinate all Malaysians, the faster we can stabilise the economy.

The sooner we succeed, the sooner we can focus on medium and long-term issues. This includes the need for economic, social and political reform to build a more prosperous, fairer, united, resilient and stronger Malaysia. This is a fight the country cannot, and must not, lose.

Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economic Affairs). The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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