KUALA LUMPUR – It cannot be denied that the bitter episode of the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the country since January last year has had a profound effect and affected the economy and lives of the people.
The government acted promptly by enforcing the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18 last year, as well as other measures, covering all sectors, to minimise the negative impact of the pandemic on the country and to protect the people.
The proactive steps taken by the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, which emphasised interests of all sectors and the people from all walks of life and age, since a year ago clearly showed its commitment and concern in safeguarding the people’s interests and that of players in the economic industry through various stimulus packages.
An allocation of RM320 billion made through five stimulus packages clearly showed that the government consistently prioritised the people’s well-being.
The people’s welfare remained a priority for Muhyiddin, who was sworn in as the 8th Prime Minister on March 1, 2020, when he announced the first package, the Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package (PRIHATIN) on March 2, 2020 with three goals, namely to protect the people, support business and strengthen the economy.
The packages introduced by the government, apart from PRIHATIN, which was worth RM250 billion, were the RM10 billion Prihatin Package for SMEs (Additional Measures), RM35 billion National Economic Recovery Plan (PENJANA), RM10 billion Prihatin Supplementary Initiative Package (Kita Prihatin) and the latest, was the PERMAI package, worth RM15 billion.
Packages benefited everyone
Many benefited from these packages, including “Makcik Kiah”, a pisang goreng (banana fritters) seller who was used as an analogy by Muhyiddin when announcing PRIHATIN.
What made the people happiest was the Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (BPN), announced through the PRIHATIN package for Malaysians categorised in the B40, M40 groups and those who are single.
Unlike the Bantuan Sara Hidup (BSH), an aid scheme that was introduced earlier which only covered recipients with household income of up to RM4000 per month, the eligibility for BPN has been increased to households with income of up to RM8000 per month, thus involved a larger number of recipients, totalling more than 10 million Malaysians and involved an allocation of RM11. 5 billion.
This assistance is provided to ease the people’s burden with the rising cost of living, as well as to increase cash flow and purchasing power.
Various other initiatives were also introduced, including a six-month moratorium on loan repayment, wage subsidy to ensure employers can retain employees as well as one off cash aid for students of institutions of higher learning, taxi and e-Hailing drivers.
A wage subsidy was also introduced for the benefit of almost 2.4 million workers nationwide.
There was also aid for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) through the Prihatin Plus Economic Stimulus Package that was announced on April 6, 2020, followed by PENJANA on June 5 to empower the people, boost business and stimulate the economy through 40 initiatives.
Next is the Prihatin Supplementary Initiative Package (Kita Prihatin) which was announced on Sept 23 with an allocation of RM10 billion in the government’s efforts to ease the people’s burden.
This package included the Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (BPN) 2.0 amounting to RM7 billion, Wage Subsidy 2.0 Programme (RM2.4 billion) and the RM600 million PRIHATIN Special Grant (GKP) initiative.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Economic and Rakyat’s Protection Assistance Package (PERMAI), comprising 22 initiatives to combat COVID-19, was announced last Jan 22 and is anchored on three goals, namely battling COVID-19, preserving the welfare of the people and supporting the continuity of businesses.
At the same time, the government is also committed to protecting the people’s health with efforts made to obtain the supply of COVID-19 vaccine through participation in the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access or COVAX programme.
The commitment involved an allocation of more than RM3 billion to ensure 80 percent of the Malaysian population are given free COVID-19 vaccination, to be carried out in three phases from last Feb 24 until February next year.
Finally, the long-awaited vaccine arrived. The National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme, which was launched last Wednesday, brought new hope for Malaysia to get out of the COVID-19 crisis with economists saying the country will gradually recover with the presence of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, a lecturer at the School of Business and Economics, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Associate Prof Dr Anuar Shah Bali Mahomed said the economic stimulus packages that were introduced by the government continuously and for the target groups had given positive impact to the country’s economy, which is now in the recovery phase.
“Looking at the government’s initiatives through the five economic stimulus packages that have been implemented, they have succeeded in easing the people’s burden, especially those who lost their jobs or whose income was affected by COVID-19,” he said.
This positive effect could be seen through sales made by the Malaysian manufacturing sector in December 2020, which was RM124.6 billion, an increase of 4.5 percent from 2019.
Malaysia’s export also recorded the highest monthly value of RM95.7 billion in December 2020, up 10.8 per cent from the corresponding month a year earlier.
“This recovery process will take a long time, possibly until 2023 and the government may consider introducing some additional economic stimulus packages to help the people, including SMEs before the presentation of the 2022 Budget, especially in the 2nd and 3rd quarter,” he added.
The stimulus packages clearly showed that the government places priority on curbing the spread of the pandemic, protecting the people’s well-being and ensuring continuity of business and growth of the country’s economy.
Availability of vaccine critical
The availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in the country is considered the best way to boost economic growth.
Malaysian Academy of Sciences fellow Datuk Dr Madeline Berma said the vaccine also provided a sign that the government no longer needed to implement the Movement Control Order (MCO), including the possibility of fully opening the economic sector.
“When the government implemented MCO earlier, we saw at that time the economy contracted more than 17 per cent, our domestic and external economy was affected because at that time there was no vaccine… what was implemented then was only by practising physical distancing while all forms of the economy, movement and so on, stopped.
“But with the vaccine today, economically we do not need a lockdown anymore and there is no reason for the government to implement it,” she said.
She said this when appearing as a guest on Bernama TV’s Ruang Bicara programme entitled ‘Setahun Malaysia Prihatin (Economics, Politics and Legislation)’ here, yesterday.
She said even though the country already has the vaccine, it was important the people should continue to practise the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and take care of themselves to help curb the transmission of COVID-19 infection optimally.
Meanwhile, on the government’s care in governing the country last year, Political and Legal analyst Prof Datuk Dr Abdul Halim Sidek said what the government had done so far proved it has been looking into the welfare of the people, especially when the country was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Actually, for me personally, it is not possible to compare the current government with the previous government because in the history of Malaysia, this is the first time a government was set up at a time it faced the greatest challenge on the COVID-19 issue, economy and so on.
“This needs a tremendous focus and support from all parties regardless of the opposition or government or department… This government is called a caring government because of many programmes and agendas were implemented for the people,” he said.
Malaysia received its first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine supply involving 312,390 doses last Sunday (Feb 21).