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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Covid-19 does not discriminate, neither should any relief plan

THE Covid-19 health crisis is an unprecedented challenge to the nation on many fronts – the scale of the crisis, the economic aftermath which is feared to be as horrific as the outbreak itself and the fact that it is being tackled by a government that was only a week old when the pandemic unleashed its full terror.
However, with seasoned politicians and returning ministers in charge in this Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration, one is hopeful – some may say cautiously optimistic – that the present leaders know what they are doing.
As far as the response from the health fraternity is concerned, the medical frontliners led by Health director-general Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah are doing a stellar job in their preparedness and keeping the public informed.
Reports of perishable goods such as fruits and vegetables being dumped due to a break or misunderstanding in the supply chain is unnerving.
However, the quick response by Senior Minister (Security) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob's officers to these reports and the minister's repeated assurance that essentials to some measure help allay fears that this government is not proactive enough.
The RM250bil Economic Stimulus Prihatin (Caring) Package announced by the Prime Minister has received as much brickbats as it has plaudits.
Kudos largely because it is geared towards caring for the most vulnerable – those earning below RM4,000. Putting money into the hands of people at these trying times is what is needed to ensure that they can still afford to buy essentials.
Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Alexander Nanta Linggi has been assuring that his ministry will work at keeping prices low and prevent profiteering.
What is even more crucial is to ensure people have essentials to buy with the extra money that the government is giving some of these individuals.
To prevent the anarchy that is building up in Italy and Spain due to lack of essentials and cash flow, it is important that food security and accessibility is enhanced – even if this means having to cut off the middleman by utilising security forces to complement the supply chain.
A moratorium on loans is a welcome relief for many. Liquidity is key here.
Those in the M40 allocate 40%-50% of their income to service housing and car loans.
Those stuck between B40 and T20, however, may find that there is nothing in there for them. Especially the self-employed or those working in the private sector.
Anyone earning RM8,001 and above will find themselves in the unenviable position of not gaining any of the goodies the stimulus package is offering but ironically will see their tax contributions being used to pay a relief of RM500 to civil servants and pensioners – people whose jobs, monthly salaries and pensions are guaranteed by the government.
This is where the government needs to be more creative in ensuring no one is left behind.
One can live opulently on RM8,000 a month in say, Sungai Koyan, Pahang. But for a family of three in the Klang Valley, this is a challenge. Don't forget RM8,000 is before deductions. Take home will probably be about RM5,500.
Various economic reports state that this group of the urban workforce can only manage save less than 10% a month. This does not give them much cushion during emergencies.
Also, the moratorium on loans do not cover credit card debts. Should there at least be an interest-free period of six months to a year to help them pay off their debts?
Should banks be allowed to charge compounding interest so that we are pushed further into debt at the end of six months? Our new banker Finance Minister may care to explain.
Or the very least injections into the private sector to assist in job retention, including corporate tax cuts to help industries and corporations sustain themselves for the next few months to a year.
The RM6.8bil aid to small medium businesses come with some exceptions including six month minimum operations and relief eligibility for a minimum 50% loss of revenue.
The Prime Minister said in his heartfelt nationwide address that no one will be left behind.
He also said "this is probably not the government that you voted for, but this is a government that cares for you" he was probably talking to largely this group of people.
For many, they still need a little more convincing.
The PN government's successful handling of this health crisis and the ensuing economic one will go a long way in gaining much goodwill following the Feb 29 power grab and eventually political longevity, where people will believe as true that this was indeed the government we needed during these dark times.
> Terence Fernandez is an award-winning journalist and communications and reputation management consultant. - Star

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