Last Mon (27 Apr), the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli slammed those who supported home-based food businesses like cake or cookie baking after the government banned them in light of the current COVID-19 outbreak.
He accused people of inciting home-based food-business operators to pressure the government into making exceptions for them during the period of tighter containment measures, calling them “irresponsible”. He said he is alarmed at the development because what this group of people are demanding is not for the greater good.
A petition was circulating in social media after the government banned home-based food business on 21 Apr. People were urging authorities to reconsider their decision (‘Minister Masagos Zulkifli criticises those who “incite” home-based businesses to “pressure” Govt to grant exceptions‘).
Masagos accused the people who supported the petition of not caring the safety of those home-based business operators and the community at large.
Replying to Masagos’ accusations, netizens pointed out that far from trying to “incite” unpleasant sentiments among the home-based business operators, people are simply trying to draw attention to the plight of low-income — particularly Malay-Muslim — families trying to make a living.
Netizens stressed that while low-income families — including those who operate home-based business — are grateful to receive Government assistance, the amount received is not enough as they have “family to feed and bills to pay”.
“Most of us are not beggars … It is easy to tell them to be patient, because they [Ministers] are not in their position. Do not equate a person’s thousand-dollar salaries with the meager earnings of a family living on paycheck to paycheck,” said Facebook user Imran Osman.
Masagos makes a U-turn
With mounting public pressure, Masagos suddenly made a U-turn and softened his stance two days later on 29 Apr (Wed).
He said on Facebook that if the COVID-19 situation improves soon, restrictions on home-based businesses might be eased to allow them to resume operations in time for Hari Raya orders (‘Restrictions on home-based businesses could be eased in time for Hari Raya, says Masagos Zulkifli‘).
He acknowledged the challenges many home-based food businesses are facing under the tightened circuit breaker measures which are scheduled to last until 1 June. “I understand their frustration, especially for many Malay/Muslim HBBfs this Ramadan and Hari Raya period, as they will have received many orders and their seasonal incomes would have been hit,” he said.
But he also said that many of these home-based business owners “understand” the rationale of the need for “these painful measures” from the government. “They accept they have to tide through this period like everybody else…This is what we need – cooperation and understanding,” he said. “Saving lives and keeping our people safe, including HBBf operators, remains our utmost priority.”
Masagos added that the government has been helping home-based food businesses like addressing their financial situation.
Halimah weighs in to help Masagos
Then last Friday on May Day (1 May), two days after Masagos softened his stance, President Halimah Yacob weighed in on the issue to show that the government does listen and cares for the low-income — especially the Malay-Muslim — families during the Hari Raya period.
Posting on Facebook, she said that every year, she would purchase cookies from home-based food operators for Hari Raya.
“I do so primarily to support our home-based businesses, but also because they provide the kind of cookies that I would make myself at home, if I had the time,” she said. “It’s not the standard commercial cookies that are on sale everywhere, but cookies up to your own taste.”
She added that home-based businesses are an important source of income for many families, especially when the coronavirus pandemic has cut into household income. She noted that those who run such businesses are predominantly women who may find it difficult to take jobs outside the home as they have children or elderly parents to care for. It is during Ramadan period that they can earn the most, she explained.
“During these very difficult times, the income that the home-based businesses earn is even more critical as some have spouses who have lost their jobs or whose income has been slashed due to Covid-19,” Halimah said.
Home-based food businesses to resume
Yesterday (2 May), after Halimah spoke the day before, Masagos’ ministry announced that home-based food businesses will now be allowed to resume operations next Tue (12 May) subject to safe management measures.
“Home-based food businesses will be allowed to accept and prepare ahead for orders that will be fulfilled from 12 May 2020. Home-based private dining will not be allowed,” it said.
“For home-based food businesses that fail to comply with safe management measures, first-time offenders will be issued composition offers of $1,000, and repeat offenders will face higher fines or prosecution in court.”
Safe management measures include:
- Ensure contactless delivery/collection – A safe distance of at least 1m must be maintained between the seller and the delivery person or buyer at all times. Sellers are required to wear a mask (even if at home entrance) during the collection/pick-up. Place or hang the food on the door or gate outside the unit and avoid face-to-face interaction as far as possible.
- Collection of food must be by appointment only – Only one person (buyer or delivery person) should be collecting at a time. There should be no bunching up. No waiting or queuing at common areas allowed.
- Use cashless payment methods – No physical exchange of cash.
- Use digital tools to enable speedier contact tracing.
In any case, the petition started by people to “pressurize” Masagos in order to re-open home-based food businesses appears to have worked. On the other hand, if it wasn’t for the general election coming up around the corner, it’s not known if the government would even bother to listen to the plight of the people.