Defending lives and livelihoods

by Tengku Zafrul Aziz

Lives matter most. As we fight this unprecedented war against Covid-19, our focus is unwavering: lives come first.

Healthcare is one of the main pillars of the RM260 billion Covid-19 economic stimulus package announced by the government. In total, we have allocated more than RM1.6 billion additional budget for healthcare, including RM600 million in the Prihatin economic stimulus package that was announced on March 27.

Our strategy is very clear: provide our frontliners – our heroes – with unconditional support in the nation’s fight against this invisible enemy.

Undergoing Phase 3 of the Movement Control Order (MCO), Malaysians have learnt to adjust and adapt to novel ways of behaviour such as social distancing, remote working, online learning and even the hand-over-heart greeting dubbed as “Salam Malaysia”.

While patiently waiting out the MCO, it is only natural for Malaysians to worry about their livelihoods, perhaps with a depth of concern and gravitas never before experienced.

This concern is shared by all Malaysians. Owners of businesses – big, medium, and small – are worried whether they can sustain their operational costs and reain workers after weeks of reduced or zero revenue. The working population is concerned about job security and income stability. Contract workers, freelancers, and daily wage earners suffering from low-to-zero income during the MCO are unsure if they can survive beyond the direct cash aid given by government. Youth who will be entering the working world for the first time are now worried whether there will even be a place for them.

The government, through Prihatin, had announced various measures to address these immediate livelihood concerns. Measures such as the Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (BPN), bank loan moratoriums and reduction in EPF contribution have but one single goal in mind: to enable individuals and families to put food on their tables, and to do so now.

A good government is a responsive government. Taking into consideration feedback from the ground, in particular the micro-businesses and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), Prihatin SME+ was introduced on April 6 after consultations with the stakeholders across various sectors. The goal for the latest package is very simple — sustain as many businesses and jobs as possible.

The Government is aware that these are all short-term measures that cater mainly to the immediate concern of preserving livelihoods.

The tougher question relates to recovery: How do we return to a pre-Covid-19 standard of living and economic growth as soon as possible? How would we even achieve this if the invisible enemy still lurks, waiting to strike and re-strike anytime, as seen in Singapore and Japan?

On 15 April, the Ministry of Health (MOH) tweeted that early signs of recovery were beginning to show as a result of the MCO. This is good news, so let us stay the course.

Continued adherence to the MCO is key to our overall health and economic recovery.

We must accept that even after the MCO is lifted, a ‘new normal’ in life and business awaits. Some measure of social distancing will likely remain: face-to-face interaction may be reduced or avoided; resumption of commercial activities may be influenced by varying degrees of “Covid-19 infected zones”; and new operating procedures will replace the standard ones.

This global pandemic has yet to run its full course, but already the government and its agencies have begun thinking about the livelihood of Malaysians post-Covid-19.

Economic recovery planning requires strategic thinking, boldness and out-of-the box ideas as well as robust, sustainable models. Moving forward, government policy implementation will now take on an agile approach. In March, when MOF announced the setting-up of Laksana (Unit Pelaksanaan dan Koordinasi Stimulus Ekonomi Antara Agensi Nasional) to monitor the implementation of Prihatin measures, we were clear form the outset that the unit would need to leverage on data-driven models to enable better results and swifter responses.

There will be more effort on behalf of the government to embrace technology, harnessing the full potential of digital models and accelerating novel ways of governing in the “new normal”.

There must also be some degree of muhasabah (introspection) and soul searching, to own up to the mistakes of the past and have the courage to correct them. The time to take long-overdue reforms and structural changes is well nigh.

Ideally, we all want to see a ‘V’ shape recovery of the economy. The next few months will be critical in determining how fast we can revitalize growth sectors for 2021. The government will focus on ensuring decent livelihoods for Malaysians by focusing on keeping resilient businesses alive, retaining as many jobs as possible, reskilling those affected and delivering relief to ease the financial burden of our people in these trying times.

While we undertake parallel strategies to save lives and carefully restore livelihoods in safer areas, underscoring all this is our uncompromising belief that saving lives remains our utmost priority. A life once lost, can never be regained; whereas livelihoods, while damaged, can still be restored. Keeping Malaysians healthy and safe are sine qua non to the nation’s path forward to the future.

The Prime Minister mentioned that we must hold on to the belief that after the rain comes the sun, and the conviction that together we can win this seemingly impossible war. And in the process, we may have to continuously make some sacrifices and tough choices, until the day comes when we overcome this deadly virus and all Malaysians can see the sun again.

Source: It is taken from Tengku Zafrul Linkedin