Why the government so slow and tardy in presenting a comprehensive package to rescue SMEs in the Covid-19 pandemic economics when compared to other countries like United Kingdom, Germany, France, Denmark, Australia and Singapore?

The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) statement yesterday calling on Putrajaya to ensure that workers’ interests are protected as part of a pivotal condition for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to obtain government assistance raises the question why the government is so slow and tardy in presenting a comprehensive package to rescue SMEs in the Covid-19 pandemic economics when compared to other countries like United Kingdom, Germany, France, Denmark, Australia and Singapore?

It could be argued that in these extraordinary times of the Covid-19 pandemic when there is a virtual lockdown of economic activities, the failure to quickly and nimbly address medical and economic problems is a form of irresponsibility and negligence, which is why there is talk of impeachment proceedings against the US President Donald Trump for his mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis in his country.

The United Kingdom government has already presented three economic stimulus packages since March 11, with the government announcing:

  • on March 11 a specific Covid-19 fiscal stimulus totalling £30 billion, including welfare and business support, sick-pay changes and local assistance; including £7 billion for businesses and families and £5bn for the National Health Service(NHS);
  • on March 17, measures which included a £330 billion – equivalent to 15% of UK GDP - in business loan guarantees and £20 billion of business rates support and grant funding to help the most-affected firms manage their cashflow through this period, such as retail and hotel businesses;
  • on March 20, £78 billion measures which included a program to issue grants to companies covering up to 80% of worker's salaries if companies keep them on payrolls rather than lay them off (up to £2,500 per month per person); and increase in safety net tax credits for people who are out of work by £1,000 a year, to help more than four million vulnerable households across the country, in a package worth £7 billion.

DAP Member of Parliament and former Deputy Minister for International Trade and Industry, Dr. Ong Kian Meng has listed ten examples of Malaysian SMEs crying for help.

I call on the Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, to stop procrastination in announcing an economic rescue package focussing on the SMEs.

The Prime Minister should use the opportunity of the new package to be more sensitive of the crisis the MCO has created to vulnerable groups, especially those who become unemployed when they stay at home.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not just a health crisis – it is an existential economic crisis and policy makers must adjust their approach on a daily basis as the increasing severity of the health pandemic and damage to the economy unfolds.

The Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz said on Saturday that help for SMEs is on the way.

Tengku Zafrul and other policy-makers in government should be motivated by the “Act Fast and Do Whatever It Takes” spirit to address the economic problems created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is why Malaysia must learn from the best practices – both public health and economic – of other countries in combatting the invisible global war of the Covid-19 pandemic, so that Malaysia can avoid the nightmares of other countries.

We should not be in the position like Italy, Spain and France, let alone United Kingdom and United States where Covid-19 pandemic is raging on and yet to reach their peak.

In Spain, there is relief in the country that its death toll in the past 24 hours had only risen by 674 to 12,418 because it is recorded the lowest number of fatalities in in nine days!

In Italy, the lowest daily COVID-19 death toll of 525 deaths for more than two weeks was registered on Sunday allowing the Italian authorities to start looking ahead to a second phase of the battle against the new coronavirus once the lockdown imposed almost a month ago is eventually eased.

Italy, Spain and France may have reached a plateau in their Covid-19 epidemiological curves, which would begin to descend, although this is subject to confirmation in the next few days.

But the situation in the United Kingdom and the United States are quite different, as the Covid-19 pandemic is raging with exponential growth in these two countries.

On the one hand, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson had been admitted to hospital for tests, ten days after testing positive for Covid-19 and on the other, the United States Surgeon General Jerome Adam had warned that next week was going to be the “Pearl Harbour” moment – “the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives”.

In the Pearl Harbour attacks, 2,403 Americans died. So far almost four times that many lives have been lost to the virus – with the total death toll in the United States standing on 9,557, which increased by 1,106 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Malaysia must act fast and do “whatever it takes” to first win the war against Covid-19 and subsequently to win the war to restore the devastated economy, but we must follow developments of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide as the global economy is also devastated.

The global total of Covid-19 cases have reached 1,272,737 cases while the global total of Covid-19 deaths have reached 69,491 cases.

Data for the top 12 countries with most number of Covid-19 cases (which also contain the 12 top countries for Covid-19 deaths) and Malaysia are as follows:

  • United States 334,232 cases; 9,557 deaths (2.86%)
  • Spain 131,646 cases; 12,641 deaths (9.6%)
  • Italy 128,948 cases; 15,887 deaths (12.3%)
  • Germany 100,123 cases; 1,584 deaths (1.58%)
  • France 92,839 cases; 8,078 deaths (8.7%)
  • China 81,669 cases; 3,329 deaths (4.07%)
  • Iran 58,226 cases; 3,603 deaths (6.2%)
  • UK 47,806 cases; 4,934 deaths (10.3%)
  • Turkey 27,069 cases; 574 deaths (2.1%)
  • Switzerland 21,100 cases; 715 deaths (3.4%)
  • Belgium 19,691 cases; 1,447 deaths (7.35%)
  • Netherlands 17,851 cases; 1,766 deaths (9.9%)
  • Malaysia 3,662 cases; 61 deaths (1.66%)

The government must always bear in mind the lesson of South Korea’s success in the war against Covid-19.

As the South Korean Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-wha has explained it, vitally important is that the government must be open and secure the trust of the people.

As Kang had explained:

“The key to our success has been absolute transparency with the public – sharing every detail of how this virus is evolving, how it is spreading and what the government is doing about it, warts and all.”

Muhyiddin should explain why the government is holding back from holding an emergency meeting of Parliament, even a virtual one, to debate the Covid-16 pandemic.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri