Are 95,000 companies really in essential services?

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As long as the companies apply under the “correct sector and cluster”, they would be approved.

After the confusion and frustration over which one of the nine ministries that business owners should approach for authorization letters, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was forced to chair a National Security Council (NSC) to fix the issue, a problem that should not have had happened in the first place. After all, this is not the first lockdown – either full or partial – in Malaysia.

But you can’t expect much from a backdoor government led by a self-proclaimed “stupid prime minister”. It was a humiliation when ministries’ server kept crashing, unable do a simple task such as to issue authorisation letters for essential services to operate and for workers to travel to work during the lockdown. As a result, U-turns and flip-flops happened again.

Senior Minister for Security – Ismail Sabri Yaakob – had initially declared that existing permission letters issued by the International Trade and Industry Ministry (MITI) for work-related travel under previous movement control orders would no longer be valid after May 31. Thanks to the chaos, now the authorities said the old letter is still valid until this Thursday (June 3).

Spooked by former PM Najib Razak’s warning that International Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali should not be given the “veto powers” to decide which companies will get approval to operate, clearly suggesting elements of corruption, the government panicked and had acted accordingly. Again, Ismail Sabri said each ministry would issue letters to businesses under its respective jurisdiction.

However, the nine ministers supposedly overseeing the 17 service sectors listed as essential were not ready even for such a minor job. Another U-turn followed when all the incompetent nine ministries had to fall back to MITI. Eventually, all applications have to be submitted through MITI’s Covid-19 Intelligent Management System (CIMS) 3.0.

Stunningly, MITI announced that as of noon June 1, a whopping 95,142 companies out of 517,144 companies have obtained their approval to operate during the MCO 3.0 (or should it be MCO 4.0?) full lockdown. MITI had even bragged that it started processing the massive applications from companies under the approved sectors from 1pm, May 31.

Lim Huey Teng/Reuters

Was it possible to process half a million applications within 24 hours, assuming they worked around the clock? It would need to process 21,547 applications every hour. Even if they could efficiently process them, which they can’t, did they perform any background check of each application? The answer – they don’t, because they approved based on face value or previous application status.

That explains why a U-turn against all factories producing alcohol. Initially approved to operate during the two-week nationwide lockdown from June 1 to 14, alcoholic beverage factories are suddenly forbidden to operate because apparently alcohol is not listed in the category of “essential services”. If that’s true, then how did they manage to bypass the system in the first place?

Make no mistake. Companies like Carlsberg Brewery and Heineken Malaysia are being targeted only because politicians try to score some political points. If alcoholic beverage is categorised as non-essential, why tobacco and cigarette are listed as an essential service? Apparently, alcohol is “haram” (forbidden) to Malay Muslims, but cigarette is not.

Essentially, it’s easy to trick or cheat the so-called MITI’s Covid-19 Intelligent Management System (CIMS) 3.0, not that the ministry gives two hoots about it. All the business owners need to do is to list their companies under the essential service to get approval to operate. Believe it or not, there are tons of MLM companies that claimed to be in the food and beverage sector.

Besides registering your company under “Makanan dan Minimum” (food and beverage) sector, for example, make sure your company is parked under “Peruncitan / Pengedaran / Pemborongan” (distribution centre) cluster. And voila, from selling products not related to health or food to manufacturing alcohol (until it was exposed) or cigarette, your business will be approved to operate.

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry said an estimated 1.2 million workers from these approved companies are expected to be working. Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin, on the other hand, said on June 1 that he was happy that vehicles on the road have dropped between 70% and 90% on the first day of the total lockdown. He must have been smoking some cheap grass.

Of course, there was a huge drop in traffic. But it isn’t because the lockdown is a huge success. Most of the companies, including shops dealing in auto parts, which are under essential service, were closed on June 1 because they had yet to get their authorisation letters. Therefore, 90% of the companies took the day off to prevent authorities from giving them troubles.

The current MCO 3.0 lockdown will not be similar, hence will be less successful, compared to the MCO 1.0 shutdown. PM Muhyiddin had never liked the idea of a full-scale lockdown from the beginning, largely because he has no idea how to restart the economy. He had reluctantly announced the current lockdown due to pressure from the extremely high Coronavirus daily cases.

Therefore, the trick is to quietly approve as many businesses to operate as possible. As long as the companies apply under the “correct sector and cluster”, they would be approved. The MITI itself is closing one eye and never bothers to check if a company is what it claims to be. The coming days will definitely see more traffic than the previous MCO 1.0 for the obvious reason.

The ruling Perikatan Nasional government isn’t interested to flatten the Coronavirus curve. It was amazing when Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri said he had no idea how 200,000 people managed to evade the police roadblocks to return to their hometowns for Hari Raya celebrations. As a defence minister, “turtle egg” Sabri has failed spectacularly and should be fired.

And there was a viral video last month showing an elderly man who had tested positive for Covid-19 being kissed and hugged by family members before he was taken away by ambulance with medical workers wearing full protective gear. Exactly how could the Ministry of Health allow such irresponsible drama to happen in the middle of Covid pandemic is beyond comprehension.

If the government couldn’t care less how 200,000 people crossed interstate for Hari Raya festivals or looked the other way when infected patients kissed and hugged, do you really think it would care how companies cheated their way to the MITI’s system to operate? You can bet your last penny that this half-baked full lockdown will be extended after June 14. – Finance Twitter