By John Isaac
THE Sarawak government has been urged to halt the implementation of major projects and to prioritise handing out cash assistance to the business community.
Democratic Action Party (DAP) state chairman Chong Chieng Jen Chong said major projects like the second trunk road and coastal highway should be suspended temporarily to free up the necessary funds to be channelled back to the people at this time of pandemic crisis.
“If we allow the businesses to collapse due to the pandemic, it would be very difficult for business owners to pick up again once the economy bounds back. We hope the state government would get their priorities right,” he said in his weekly live session on Facebook as reported by Borneo Post.
Chong reminded that former state Second Finance Minister Datuk Sri Wong Soon Koh had once called out the state’s bleak financial situation that warranted a review of the state budget and major projects announced.
Moreover, Chong explained, most businesses were forced to dig deep into their savings during the economic fallout of the pandemic last year and the state government must now formulate their next round of financial assistance to businesses.
He suggested that the state government take out 10 per cent of the state’s reserve of about RM23 billion as of end of 2019 to be distributed back to the people, especially the cash-strapped small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
Also, Chong was bemused that certain quarters were asking the opposition to provide the funds for assistance, since the government was the one managing public funds by collecting taxes from the people and enjoying revenue from the state’s natural resources.
“While we understand the Movement Control Order (MCO) or Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) were necessary to flatten the curve of Covid-19 infections, the crux of the matter is the state government has to step in to provide the necessary financial support for the business community.”
Chong reiterated the proposals from his party to the state government to offer RM1,500 cash handout to every hawker and petty trader, RM500 million interest-free loans be given to SMEs, RM100 million grant for SMEs for transformation into e-commerce and digitalisation, 50 per cent wage subsidy for SMEs for three months and direct assistance grant for sectors ordered to be shut and those in tourism sector.
He questioned whether the state government was facing shortage of funds to be distributed to the people or intended to roll out the assistance only when the elections are near.
“I ask again for the state government to announce the next round of Sarawakku Sayang Special Assistance (BKSS) package in the soonest time. Coupled with DAP Sarawak’s five proposals and rapid vaccination rollout, we believe the state’s economic recovery would be accelerated.”
Chong said the state government led by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg had the duty to support the local business sector and actions needed to be initiated promptly to render assistance.
Besides that, the state DAP leader said the State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) and State Cabinet ministers must be on the same page on vaccination drive and not cause further confusions with contradictory statements, including matters pertaining to the purchase of vaccines.