In this webinar, YB Jannie Lasimbang and Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj draws on their community activism and political advocacy experiences to explain the ground-level realities during the MCO and critically assess the country’s policy responses of the past year.
MALAYSIA STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Monday, 24 May 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a webinar “COVID-19 and MCO in Malaysia: Grassroots Perspectives”, delivered by two guest speakers The Hon. Jannie Lasimbang and Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj. Ms Jannie is the Sabah state assemblyperson for Kapayan and served in the state government as the Assistant Minister of Law and Native Affairs until July 2020. Presently she is the Democratic Action Party (DAP)’s Sabah Women Chief, and prior to entering politics in 2017 she was a Commissioner with SUHAKAM. Dr Jeyakumar is the chairman of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), and Member of Parliament for Sungai Siput from 2008 to 2018. He is a medical doctor by profession, in addition to his frequent contributions as a commentator on politics and public policy.
Ms Jannie kicked off the webinar with an overview of the economic impacts as the government implemented Movement Control Order (MCO) since the outbreak of the pandemic. Residents in areas under Enhanced MCO (EMCO) were barred from leaving their locality, which severely affected the livelihood of daily wage workers and micro businesses. Some residents also had difficulties obtaining food supplies, as in the case of EMCO in Kapayan prison and parts of Tawau.
Dr Jeyakumar argued that the extent of economic impacts caused by the MCO differed across sectors. Employees in the formal sector emerged relatively unscathed despite the MCO, as they were eligible for the government wage subsidy and retrenchment benefits (should they be retrenched). In contrast, Malaysians working in the informal sector and micro businesses borne the brunt of the economic shutdown as they were not eligible for most of the assistance schemes in the stimulus package except for Bantuan Prihatin (cash assistance) given to all low-income Malaysians. Dr Jeyakumar estimated that Malaysia has 3 million daily wage workers, in addition to 2 million employed in micro-businesses. He suggested the creation of a monthly RM 500 cash assistance scheme for Malaysian households in the bottom 20 income percentile to assist the economically vulnerable families.
Ms Jannie suggested that instead of offering one-off cash and food assistance, governmental assistance should target the residents’ long-term needs while building up community support. She also highlighted that the distribution of governmental assistance in Sabah was hampered by the change in state government during September 2020. Incumbent local leaders, including village chiefs and Village Development and Security Committees (JKKK), were removed as the newly installed Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) government sought to install its own political appointees. However, some positions remained vacant to this day and without local leaders to identify needy residents, the disbursement of government assistance has been significantly impeded. YB Jannie commented that numerous non-governmental organisations (NGO) also stepped in to assist Sabah residents who have fallen through the cracks, for instance, PACOS Trust.
In terms of vaccination rollout in Malaysia, Dr Jeyakumar argued that the establishment of a “no-fault insurance” would help to reduce vaccine hesitancy among Malaysians and hasten the vaccination rollout. The insurance would provide financial compensation to individuals who incur medical conditions within one month of being vaccinated, regardless of whether it is due to the vaccination. In addition, to incentivise undocumented foreign workers to receive vaccination, the government can consider granting them a one-year legalised work permit. Ms Jannie commented that vaccination is a key pillar for Malaysia to defeat the pandemic, in addition to social distancing and compliance to Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). She added that another round of full MCO would be detrimental to the Malaysian economy, in addition to mental health implications.
Both speakers concluded that the pandemic exposed the gaps within the Malaysian healthcare system, and moving forth the government should increase expenditure for public health while granting states the autonomy to decide on public health matters. The webinar drew 70 participants from Singapore and abroad, including academics and members of the public.