HAS the annual turf war for Ramadan bazaar lots in Kuala Lumpur cost traders the opportunity to eke out a living during the Covid-19 crisis?
This is one of the conclusions one can make following the Federal Territories Ministry’s snail’s pace in adopting the e-bazaar concept to ensure traders will still be able to do business this fasting month.
It is understood that while the Federal Government was in the midst of putting together e-Ramadan facilities with the co-operation of e-delivery and e-transport service providers last month, Kuala Lumpur City Hall and the Federal Territories Ministry were not in sync with the plan, insisting on some form of physical bazaar.
This probably explains why there were conflicting statements coming out of Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and the Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa in recent weeks.
The former has been rightfully uncompromising saying all physical Ramadan bazaars are banned, while the latter was mulling a new concept of bazaars that inculcated a little bit of the traditional bazaars but with stricter rules on social distancing and hygiene.
And while states such as Selangor and Penang had already started getting prepared for the implementation of e-bazaars, which use a closed kitchen concept, the Federal Territories Ministry was still setting up a task force to study Ramadan bazaar alternatives.
With Ramadan starting in just over a week from now, it would be impossible to register or onboard the 3,000 or so traders on the e-bazaar application, according to a senior official of one of the companies engaged to offer e-bazaar services.
Selangor, meanwhile, is all set for a different but smoother e-bazaar implementation where it engaged Grab to implement the programme in 17 locations throughout state.
Grab, it is learnt, was prepared to expand its range to Kuala Lumpur but dilly-dallying by federal authorities have resulted in the company pulling out, so that it can concentrate on Selangor.
While a presentation was made on a safer, contactless implementation of Ramadan bazaars in the federal territories, the Ministry persisted with a three-pronged concept – e-Bazar; drive-thru and ride-hailing.
One can only speculate why the delay and fickleness in adopting the e-bazaar concept.
Ramadan bazaars have been an annual cash cow for several individuals and groups. Every year there are complaints during the Ramadan bazaar lot balloting that involve non-authentic traders.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is always kept busy this time of year, investigating reports of abuse of process and power; as well as companies linked to politicians being appointed to manage these bazaars.
Another beef was that while rental for Ramadan bazaar lots was only RM500 per lot, there have been reports of these lots being sub-let for RM30,000.
These are allegations that have been around for decades but the latest allegation came from none other than Khalid Samad when he was the Federal Territories Minister not too long ago.
On Feb 21, he was reported as saying that his ministry was striving to put an end to these Ali Baba practices.
An online application for Ramadan bazaars, he said, would give equitable opportunities to do business during the fasting month to all, including the poor and handicapped.
Now with the possibility of a less coordinated Ramadan bazaar with limited platforms, the biggest losers would be the traders who are already expected to make 50% less of their usual earnings.
One is not saying that vested interests of a few is the conclusion here, however, the reluctance to be on the same page with one’s Cabinet colleagues who are working against the grain to save lives yet ensure the wheels of the economy keep rotating does give food for thought.
Terence is an award-winning journalist and who advises on reputation management and communications.
Terence Fernandez is an award-winning journalist and communications consultant.