Covid-19: Maybe this is the response?

Covid-19 is believed to be a permanent feature and ‘learn to co-exist’ will be the mantra by 2023


OVER the past 16 months or so, we have seen how the authorities dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic fallouts.

To the best of my memory, perhaps RM700 billion or more have been spent by the government to counter this. There was hardly anything “novel” in these initiatives. In fact, most were a cause of concern and unhappiness among the rakyat.

Frankly, I have been the least impressed by the often-knee-jerk response the establishment proffered. So, here’s what I think can be done to substantially address the worsening situation.

In the long term, I believe, Covid-19 will be a permanent feature in our lives. “Learn to coexist” will be the mantra by 2023.

To avoid making it political or complicated, I’ve not pontificated on the merits of each proposal. You are free to agree, expand or disagree with my views.

I’ve encaptioned my thoughts broadly as follows:

Food and Survival

We know the hardest hit is the bottom 40% (B40) group, and maybe now, the middle 40% (M40) group that may very well fall into the B40 if this “no work/business” situation prolongs.

Let us set up temporary food banks in areas where the B40 is situated, fully funded by the government. For outlying areas (especially in remote areas), set up mobile food banks — either on wheels or water transport. Those affected can send a representative to these centres to collect their survival provision.

Where practical, use the various delivery agencies (like Grab, Foodpanda and so on) to also assist in the delivery of these sundries.

This will also help minimise the need for our people to travel out of their homes, and hopefully with the basic food and survival issues taken care of, there will be less suicides, among others. The main concern for the B40 is survival and we can eradicate this concern while they are not working.

Medical Assistance

Again, it is the B40 and other less heeled persons who are the most handicapped. So, let us set up standalone vaccination centres (SVCs) in strategic areas so that instead of having our people line up for hours at the very few centres the government has now, our folks can pop-in to the SVCs and have their jabs with proper documentation similar to a “drive-in” concept. This has been very successful in Singapore especially.

Where the population is really rural (especially in East Malaysia), do the same via mobile (car, train or water transportation) SVCs, ie, we will come to you if you can’t come to us,

Allow private enterprises to do the same. I’m sure most private enterprises will support this initiative, so that they can reopen their businesses. To incentivise them, let these enterprises claim a tax rebate for the costs they have incurred. There is no real “cost” to the government because it also saves on the (free) vaccines otherwise.

Allow All Biz to Open with Strict SOPs

If the above procedures are followed, there is no need to have confusing rules to determine which business is deemed (and by whom?) essential. There is so much confusion (and indeed corruption) here in the current implementation; we can expect some permits to have been issued with some financial persuasion.

Businesses and outlets with a large “gathering” propensity should remain closed like places of worship, stadiums and so on. But where these businesses can exhibit that their establishments have complied fully with the SOPs, there is no harm in allowing them to operate with reduced numbers.

Contact sports and “people friendly” business can only operate if they too have complied with the strict SOPs. Dining in, in my opinion, is perfectly allowable if limited to two or three to a table with SOPs. We have not heard of a “pub” cluster.

Boost Services, SME Sectors

One of the main gripes presently is that this government has “killed” many businesses with its “start/ stop/maybe” directives. So, instead of confusion reigning, let’s do these:

• To help the government implement the “mobile” part of the initiatives above, it can enlist the help of various delivery app providers like Grab, Lalamove, GoGet and others. Imagine the volume of additional business these companies can garner if the government’s delivery mechanism can be outsourced to them. For example, MyEG Services Bhd has been doing this for several years already and there is no problem in assigning the same to the other delivery agents. Frankly, they can do it faster than the government. Best of all, the government makes its money from the taxes it can collect from them instead of shutting down the services/manufacturing industry.

• Instead of allowing the civil service to operate at 20% (considering that it operates at 50% on most days anyway) capacity during the Movement Control Order, the government can redeploy many of them to partake in the activities above.

Frontliners: Medical and Support Services

It is undeniable that frontliners (private and public) and the entire medical (and related support) industry have been under tremendous pressure from the start of this pandemic. So, as to alleviate the pain in this sector, I propose the following:

• All frontliners be given an additional 15 days’ paid vacation a year to be taken at appropriate intervals in their career. This will allow them to recover from the extreme fatigue faced by them during this pandemic. A healthy doctor is better for all of us.

• All frontliners enjoy free medical treatment for the entire family if they are afflicted with Covid at any time during their service. This is the least we can do to show gratitude.

Civil Service, Ministers

I think the rakyat’s consensus is that these groups (except those falling in the frontliner and “working” ministers categories), for the bulk of it, most of them have not been working during the shutdown. Even when the government mandated that between 20% and 30% should be working remotely, most of them have been “remotely” working. It’s been an extended paid holiday for many. For these groups, I propose:

• All be redeployed to help out in the manning and distribution programmes as proposed earlier.

Export Sector

While the authorities said we will likely register a 4.5% per annum growth in GDP in 2021, I find this hard to believe when businesses have been shut for the better part of the year to date. Ask any small and medium enterprises (SMEs). They are expecting a fall of up to 40% in their business this year.

Subject to SOPs being followed, open up all the sectors that are solely in the export business like crude palm oil, electronics and such.

Consider reducing income taxes/ levies on their production if these companies export 50% or more of their sales, and consider reducing/ removing the input taxes on the materials they use in their export oriented production.

Financial Sector

• All banks in the country to contribute to a Covid cess of RM10,000 per RM1 million of their past year’s profits.

• All new recruitment shall be done from those who were retrenched as a result of Covidcaused circumstances. This must be made a law so that all those who are hard hit by the Covid, have an edge in being hired first than those who are not.

• All banks will be required to lend as a priority, to the businesses hit badly by Covid-caused reasons. Again, this must be made a law until the pandemic is over.

Income Tax by Necessity

Now, this is going to be the least popular proposal because it will affect the pockets of the well taken care. Let’s be honest, for those still earning RM 25,000 per month and above, you really have not felt what the B40 have. Yes, many of us have been also donating and helping out in various forms. Let “karma” take care of you in heaven but on earth, why not:

• A temporary additional income tax on RM500 per person if your annual tax payable is RM20,000 or more. This can be on a graduated scale, so that it doesn’t burden the lower category of taxpayers.

• An additional Covid tax of RM10,000 on those earning RM1 million per annum or more — on a graduated scale as above.

• A super profit tax (in addition to the above) of RM100,000 on anyone earning RM5 million per annum or more.

Let’s be honest, these additional taxes will not kill you. But the additional revenues the government makes will go towards feeding our brothers and sisters in need.

  • Ramesh Rajaratnam is a retired professional who is very disappointed that the rakyat is still suffering.

The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.