Desperate to ride out the pandemic

GEORGE TOWN: Without foreign tourists and with hardly anyone going abroad, moneychangers in Penang are on the verge of folding.

What is more pressing is what some moneychangers call the “identity crisis” of the business because the government had reclassified their companies from the financial sector to tourism.

“We are being lumped under tourism and have to compete for government aid with many other organisations under the sector, with very little reaching us, ” said Penang Muslim Jewellers and Money Changers Association secretary Umar Farook Othuman Mydin.

“Since March, we have been seeing money-changing companies close down in Penang, two permanently and 10 temporarily, ” he lamented.

Umar Farook said the association has put in a formal request to Bank Negara for financial aid for the over 300 licence holders, 50 of them from Penang.

He noted that taking into consideration the fact that the smallest moneychanger has an operating expenditure of RM20,000 a month, they will need at least RM300,000 to survive until the end of next year.

The bigger ones will need at least RM1mil, he said.

“However, only a few companies received aid of RM850,000 some time ago while there is no word on others’ application.

“What we are asking from Bank Negara is financial aid for foreign exchange companies with a paid-up capital of RM300,000 to RM500,000 which form the bulk of 270 licences nationwide.”

Umar Farook said the government should also give some leeway to let them operate other businesses during these tough times such as going into ticketing and insurance or courier services as well as relax some rules.

“The present law is rigid. Our licences are only for money-changing businesses, which are not viable to continue now.

“There should also be a leeway on our annual licences by reducing the minimum paid-up capital required to renew our licence, from RM300,000 to RM200,000, at least until the pandemic is over, ” he said.

A moneychanger along Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling here, Mohamed Kassim Mohamed Mydin, 48, said he has been using his reserves since late March.

“I had five shops but two at Swettenham Pier Container Terminal closed when the government banned cruise ships from coming in.

“Whatever I have now can last me for another six months as only a handful of people who bought certain currencies to travel are coming here to change.

“Many could not hold on to the currencies as they don’t know when they will be travelling. So they convert them back to ringgit and that’s the only business we do now.”

Naina Mohamed Mohamed Hidayhulla Khan, 48, said 90% of his business now is from locals, adding that with only a few going overseas, there is barely anyone at his shop.

“All of us are only doing transactions with people who change currencies now and then. We don’t know how long we will survive in this business, ” he said at his shop, also in Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling.

Dr Anvar Hussain Rahumathullah, 63, whose family has been in the money- changing business for the last 60 years, said unless there is some kind of government aid, many such shops will have to cease operation.

“We don’t know when the pandemic will end. Many can’t sustain their business anymore, and it’s tough as they have to renew their licence and show a minimum paid-up capital of RM300,000, ” he added.

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