On Sunday (26 April), Ahmad Firdaus Daud, a litigation lawyer, took to his Facebook to question the inconsistency of the Government’s policy on “contact-less arrangements” in which third party delivery services are allowed on an individual basis but not for home-based business.
Citing news reports by Berita Harian and The Straits Times about home businesses not being allowed to operate if they require third-party services to deliver goods, Mr Firdaus, who is also a council member of National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA), pointed out the loopholes under these “COVID-19 rules”.
He explained that COVID-19 rules allow non-essential providers from carrying on with their businesses at home as long as the business or work does not require meeting any other individual in person.
However, he noted that home business owner could also pass goods to a third-party delivery service without allowing the delivery person to enter the residence or even meeting the delivery person, thus practising “contact-less arrangements”.
Mr Firdaus then pointed out, “Contact-less arrangements appear to comply with the COVID-19 rules but not the agencies’ stipulation that home business cannot engage third-party delivery services at all.”
Against this background, he therefore asked the Ministry of Health (MOH) to clarify whether home-based businesses are allowed to engage third-party delivery services through this “contact-less means” in order to keep their businesses running.
If it is allowed, he then suggested public agencies to clarify how they will apply their stricter prohibitive advisories.
On the flip side, if home businesses are prohibited to engage third-party delivery services, the MOH should clarify whether individuals can still deliver and receive goods through third-party delivery services on a personal basis, said Mr Firdaus, doubting the inconsistency of the Government’s rules for businesses and individuals in terms of using such services.
“Because the home businesses will just engage delivery services ‘on an individual basis’ as a workaround,” he remarked.
Mr Firdaus continued, “If home businesses are not permitted to use contact-less means to deliver goods, then we have to sort out why one can do so on a personal, individual basis but not for a home business.”
“I am pretty sure everyone still thinks that they are allowed to send items via third-party delivery services on a personal basis. If that is actually not allowed, the ramifications will be significant,” he wrote in his post.
At the same time, Mr Firdaus also raised concerns that the threat of a S$1,000 fine for non-compliance of these rules imposed home-based businesses is “misplaced without specifying the legal authority for such a fine”.
He added, “Are there new HDB, URA rules? Or is this the likely fine for a first-time contravention of the COVID-19 rules?”
He reiterated that clarity is needed for the vagueness of “contact-less engagements”.
“If home businesses must indeed cease operations, then we will talk about the support or assistance schemes in place to help home business owners,” he concluded.
The controversy and concerns over COVID-19 impact on home-based businesses
In light of COVID-19 circuit breaker regulations, home-based businesses that do not meet a specific set of criteria during the circuit breaker period will have to cease operations or face a S$1,000 fine, according to a joint statement by the Ministry for Trade and Industry (MTI), Ministry for Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), Housing Development Board (HDB), and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
In order to continue operating, the authorities stated that the business should operate only online without requiring the business owners and staff to leave their respective premises, and should not involve needing any visitors or customers or third-party delivery services at the premises to collect and deliver goods.
Given this, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)’s member Damanhuri Abas voiced on his Facebook on Monday (27 Apr) that if he were the person in charge, he would “show utmost flexibility” in allowing home-based business operators to continue providing the food services within the means and to their best capacity, despite the circuit breaker measures being carried out to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mr Abas explained, “If I am the person in position of authority, this would be my respond to the issue,” adding that he would empathise with the support shown towards the home-based businesses during these difficult times.
Meanwhile, MEWR Minister Masagos Zulkifli, on Monday, criticised those who he claimed are “trying to incite” such businesses to “pressure the Government to make exceptions” for such businesses. This appears to be in response to online petitions that have cropped up urging the authorities to review their handling of home-based businesses under the circuit breaker period.
Branding the move “irresponsible”, Mr Masagos said that such action only serves to rub “more salt” into the “wounds” of home-based businesses they are purportedly fighting for because “they know the Government cannot make exceptions to any sector affected in the TCB period”.
Mr Masagos criticised the people calling for such a measure, asserting that they “do not care for the safety of our HBB operators nor our community”.
“If the HBB operators continue their business as usual, they run the risk of being infected or becoming a cluster of COVID-19 cases — more so near Raya, when orders pile up,” he hinted.
On the other hand, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said that the regulations imposed on home-based F&B businesses may be eased if there is a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases in the community.
“Current rules do not allow for home-based F&B, but if and when community numbers do continue to come down, as we said, we’re going to review the numbers.
“If the numbers are brought down, we may very well relax some of the restrictions, and at that time, we will let Singaporeans know when this or any other activities that we think can start will be able to resume,” said Mr Wong during the multi-ministry press conference on Monday.