Covid-19 law should focus on local issues

The topmost issues that must be considered are the protection of businesses and securing employment, says expert


THE Covid-19 Bill, which is expected to be introduced soon, should be more focused on addressing specific issues that are affecting our economy, and not merely a replication of what other countries are doing.

Putra Business School associate Prof Dr Ahmed Razman Abdul Latiff said the topmost issues that must be considered in the formulation of the bills are the protection of local businesses and securing employment for Malaysians.

He said the bill could also include further cash reliefs that would help individuals and businesses to be sustainable, while encouraging growth in Industrial Revolution 4.0.

Ahmed Razman said if Malaysia models the Covid-19 law similar to New Zealand and Singapore, an adoption of the best features from the two countries can be feasibly implemented here.

“For example, if we are talking about cash relief, New Zealand would probably be able to offer attractive cash relief to its citizens as its government debt-to-GDP is only at 19% in 2019, compared to Singapore whose government debt stood at 126.3% to its GDP.

“So, Malaysia can probably offer cash relief somewhere in between these two countries since our government debt-to-GDP is around 52%,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Ahmed Razman said for the eviction law meant for illegal foreigners, Singapore does not have such problems and would probably address the issue of skilled expatriates working in the country, which in turn, deprive local talents of such job opportunities.

“Similarly, New Zealand is more interested in having skilled migrant workers for its industries. For Malaysia, unfortunately, we still depend on low-skilled foreign workers,” he said.

On July 4, Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz said the Covid-19 Bill will be similar to what has been implemented and announced in countries like New Zealand and Singapore. He said this new law will be discussed in the Cabinet and be brought to the Parliament soon.

Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs senior economist Adli Amirullah said Malaysia can follow Singapore by providing more upskilling and retraining programmes for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and affected workers to adapt to the new normal. He said cash transfer is a good policy for short term, but not as a longer run solution.

“What is the exit plan for the government to ensure the negative impact of Covid-19 can be mitigated? What Singapore did introduce is an upskilling programme for SMEs to rebound from the losses as they cope with the huge changes happening in the economy.

“However, we are yet to see how effective the implementation is from the Singapore side. But in theory, the idea behind it is the right thing to do,” Adli added.

Think tank The Centre said the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the urgency of designing a pandemic-proof social safety net for all Malaysians in the long run.

The Centre researcher Edwin Goh Wei Qian said life under the Movement Control Order (MCO) has exposed the true depth of workers’ vulnerability, particularly full-time informal workers and those who are self-employed, whose lifeline depends on uncertain wages and not uniformly covered under existing social protection programmes under the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and the Social Security Organisation (Socso).

He said according to the Malaysia Economic Monitor by the World Bank, an estimated 40% of Malaysians are not protected by such programmes.

Goh said the Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH) is a good, broad and direct safety net measure, but the amounts and frequencies need to be reviewed to ensure adequate funds are channelled to households facing income disruption or loss.

“The government has been progressively integrating separate databases of recipient information across various government departments, which is a positive move towards ensuring better coverage of BSH and other cash transfer programmes.

“As a further, long-term policy improvement, we advocate for the creation of social protection or social security numbers from birth to automatically enrol Malaysian citizens into contribution-based social safety net schemes under EPF and Socso as a minimum,” he told TMR.

He said the reliance on voluntary enrolment on the part of informal or self-employed workers will not close the gap in coverage, as was clearly shown during the MCO.

“In this connection, we look forward to following the deliberations and developments from the recently reactivated Malaysia Social Protection Council, which we hope will include a discussion on the issues touched on above,” he added.

Universiti Putra Malaysia political science Prof Dr Jayum Anak Jawan said the Covid-19 pandemic is a wake-up call that has perhaps slowed down the connection between countries as governments devise restrictions and conditions on travels into their respective territories.

“Consciously or not, the tightening of borders and cross border travels may be on the agenda of many nations as a means to curb Covid-19 pandemic and further similar threats,” he told TMR.