From white flag to suicide – another aid package that may be too little, too late

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This is perhaps the first time in the history of Malaysia where people have to raise white flags due to hunger and desperation.

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DoSM), there were eight million households in the country in 2019, before the Coronavirus outbreak. If the government had implemented a genuine full-scale lockdown like the MCO 1.0 (movement control order) and paid every household RM1,000 a month to stay at home, it will cost the country RM8 billion.

Let’s assume it would take three months to flatten the curve, it would cost RM24 billion to keep everyone at home, with the exception of essential service. Three months should be sufficient to defeat the virus because Wuhan lockdown in China only took 76 days. As long as the people have money to buy food, most would obediently stay at home, as seen during the MCO 1.0 in March 2020.

Assuming the government was generous and decided to double the free cash from RM1,000 to RM2,000 per month, it would cost the national coffer only RM48 billion. Even if you lock down the people twice, it would be less than RM100 billion. That’s actually a very low price to pay to keep all the eight million households happy, safe and well-fed for six months under a full lockdown.

Of course, not every household deserves free cash. For example, not a single of the 1.71 million civil servants on the government payroll (as of March 2019) has experienced any pay cut, let alone losing their job since the outbreak last year. Most of them would be more than happy just to stay and sleep at home for six months, even without any free cash.

Do you know that the highest number of households with income of at least RM15,000 are Bumiputera (345,600 households or 47.5%), compared with about 316,800 Chinese households (43.5%) and about 65,500 Indian households (9%)? These groups of households clearly have no problem putting food on the table. Therefore, the overall government financial aid will be much lower.

While the microeconomics are much more complex than that, the fact remains that despite having spent an eye-popping RM660 billion – various stimulus packages totalling RM340 billion and RM322 billion allocation for the national budget – the general public simply did not feel any direct or spillover economic effect. Did anyone feel like getting RM1,000 for three months during the last financial aid?

If everyone did not feel they had gotten RM1,000 for three months, it means the backdoor Perikatan Nasional government had spent less than RM24 billion in direct cash assistance for the eight million households. So, where had more than RM600 billion vanished to? Either PM Mahaiddin had lied through his teeth or that money had been siphoned or plundered away – pick one.

The prime minister can scream until foaming at the mouth about assistance packages like PRIHATIN (RM250 billion), PRIHATIN SMEs (RM10 billion), PENJANA (RM35 billion), Kita PRIHATIN (RM10 billion), PERMAI  (RM15  billion), PEMERKASA (RM20 billion) and whatnot between March 2020 and March 2021, but in reality, people continue to suffer in silence.

Last year, the unemployment rate had skyrocketed to 4.8%, foreign direct investments (FDI) had dropped by 68%, some 32,000 small-and-medium-businesses (SMEs) had closed down, Fitch Ratings’ had downgraded Malaysia’s credit rating from A- to BBB+ and economy (GDP) had plunged by 5.6% – the worst contraction since the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis.

As of June 2021, 30% of shops at shopping malls had closed down and 300,000 workers in retail industries nationwide had lost their jobs over the past 16 months because the government has repeatedly failed to contain the pandemic, which is in its 4th wave now. If it’s true that the RM600 billion had gone to help businesses, exactly how could the economy plunge to such disaster level?

Early this month, SME Association of Malaysia warned that at least 50,000 more small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs), especially in retail and food and beverages, may be out of business should the current MCO 3.0 extends another six weeks. And PM Mahiaddin did precisely that, announcing that the current lockdown will be extended – indefinitely – until daily Covid cases fall below 4,000.

The clueless and incompetent government still hasn’t figured out that the MCO 3.0, like its predecessor MCO 2.0, doesn’t work and will not work simply because the half-baked full-lockdown allows a jaw-dropping 128,150 companies to run their business as usual. It was like adding fuel to the fire while trying (or rather pretending) to put out the fire.

Yesterday (June 29), the country recorded another sterling performance, adding 6,437 new Covid infections and 107 deaths, bringing the total cases to 745,703 and the death toll to 5,108. But these deaths are not the only blood on Mahiaddin alias Muhyiddin’s hands. People are committing suicide as a result of the prolonging pandemic, which the government is fully responsible.

According to the shocking statistic released by health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah yesterday, there were 336 suicides as of March 2021 – an average of 4 suicide cases every day for the first three months of this year. In comparison, there were 631 suicide cases in 2020, an increase from the 609 recorded in 2019. What does this mean?

It means the suicide cases have more than doubled from 1.72 cases per day last year to the current four cases per day due to the ongoing financial distress and family issues arising from the long social isolation brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. During the Movement Control Orders between March 18 and Oct 31 last year, 266 people committed suicide, including a 15-year-old girl.

In fact, the Health Ministry revealed that 1,080 cases of suicide attempts had received treatment at public hospitals last year. Between March and May this year, Befrienders, a non-profit organisation providing emotional support 24 hours a day, received 10,412 calls (up from 6,858 over the same period last year) from people who were distressed over job losses and financial problems.

Two days ago (June 28), a man who had been out of work for two months hung himself at the overhead pedestrian crossing along the SILK Highway because he could not handle the financial pressure as well as Covid-19 infecting his family. Two days before that suicide, a 37-year-old woman jumped from the 15th floor of Block 39, Flat Sri Perak, Bandar Baru Sentul.

Two weeks ago (June 15), a 25-year-old man, jobless and alone, had tried to jump from the 11th floor of Projek Perumahan Rakyat (PPR) Beringin, Jinjang Utara. There was also a case of a 66-year-old retiree who took his own life by slitting his neck after testing positive for Covid-19, in addition to incurring RM40,000 medical bills at a private hospital.

For those strong enough not to take their own lives, they are facing the problem of putting food on the table. While the government is still in denial over its “KerajaanGagal” (failed government) trademark, a new hashtag has gone viral on social media. The “BenderaPutih” (white flag), initiated because people have lost faith in the government, has become an overnight success.

With the endless Covid cases and lockdowns, the #BenderaPutih movement was started by netizens to help those in dire need of food and essentials. Anyone who needed assistance is encouraged to fly a “white flag” or cloth outside their house to draw attention from the neighbourhood to help. The fact that the people have been reduced to such a level speaks volumes about the regime’s incompetence.

Yes, the prime minister and his ministers proudly gave their thumbs up as they were happily enjoying lobsters. Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Bung Moktar was photographed consuming turtle eggs. Economics Minister Mustapa Mohamed was caught having his meal at a coffee shop, despite the restrictions that restaurants are allowed to offer only takeaway and delivery services.

Deputy Speaker of Dewan Rakyat (Lower House of Representative) Mohd Rashid Hasnon, meanwhile, has been caught with his pants down, feasting durian with a group of people at a farm in a 13-second video clip that has gone viral. And there was UMNO gangster Nazri Aziz, telling all and sundry that he was going overseas for a two months’ holiday as well as to enrol his five-year-old son to study abroad.

While the super bloated Cabinet of 72 ministers and deputy ministers help themselves to exotic food and luxury holidays, the hungry and jobless people are struggling to make ends meet. This is perhaps the first time in the history of Malaysia where people have to raise white flags due to hunger and desperation. But even then, the arrogant government laughs at such effort.

Nik Abduh Aziz, one of the leaders of PAS Islamist party in the Mahiaddin government, has mocked the people that they should raise their hands in prayer to God instead of raising the white flags. Clearly, the government is out of touch with the hardship faced by people on the ground. If endless praying could result in money and food dropping from the sky, people would have done that already.

After heavy criticism, the prime minister finally unleashed a RM150 billion aid package. Comically, it was just in April that Mahiaddin declared the country was bankrupt as a result of the various stimulus programs. In his pledge not to declare another lockdown, he had argued last month, before making a U-turn, that he would only lockdown if someone can give him half a trillion Ringgit.

But as expected, like the previous assistance packages, the latest so-called Economic Recovery Package (PEMULIH) contains only RM10 billion in direct fiscal spending in the form of cash aid, wage subsidies and unemployment assistance. B40 (bottom 40%) households will receive RM500 in August and RM300 in December, while B40 singles will receive RM200 in August.

M40 (median 40%) households will get RM250 in August and M40 singles are set to receive RM100 in August. Big deal! Exactly how does the government expect the B40 households to survive for the subsequent 3 months after August? The premier also proudly announced that there will also be another round of withdrawals from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF).

Apparently, EPF contributors can withdraw up to RM5,000 – or RM1,000 a month for five months under i-Citra. From i-Lestari to i-Sinar and now i-Citra, the prime minister talked as if he was in some sort of Proton naming contest. After various rounds of withdrawals, people have almost emptied their own retirement savings. And Mahiaddin has the cheek to claim this is a government financial aid.

Previously, during “i-Lestari” Account 2 Withdrawal Scheme, it was revealed that some EPF members had already exhausted their Account 2 after two months – that’s only RM1,000. In the subsequent “i-Sinar” Account 1 Withdrawal Scheme, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz admitted that 42% of EPF members have less than RM5,000 in Account 1.

How do the genius prime minister and his top brains expect the people to withdraw RM5,000 when there is no more money in their EPF accounts? If you think the latest RM150 billion would make a spectacular economic improvement when the previous RM660 billion of various stimulus packages had failed, you should check the grass you have been smoking.

Had the government implemented a genuine, not a half-baked, full lockdown during the MCO 2.0, the pandemic could be suppressed and contained. The same goes for MCO 3.0. It would not have to spend another RM150 billion today, which obviously is too little, too late now that the Coronavirus is spreading beyond control. It has been using the wrong tools all along.

Spending RM50 billion to keep the eight million households at home for three months to flatten the virus curve is better than wasting more than RM800 billion on dubious stimulus packages, which clearly have not returned the desired results. At the very least, it will significantly cut the number of Covid-19 daily cases and deaths, not to mention reduce cases of suicide. The regime should be ashamed that people have to wave white flags for food.

The government prefers to protect the highly profitable banks rather than helping small business owners and people with loan repayment moratoriums. It prefers to prolong the pandemic rather than implementing a full lockdown or expediting vaccination. It could become an effective and popular government had it spent more time administering rather than politicking and scheming. – Finance Twitter