Prompted by rising unemployment and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Johor state government is seeking to table a plan to expedite the reopening of its borders with Singapore to the Malaysian federal government.
Bernama reported Chief Minister Hasni Mohammad as saying on Sunday (11 October) that the plan will “not only touch on the needs to reopen the border”, but will also focus on Malaysians working in Singapore “and the effects of investment in Johor as well as those intending to enter [to invest] in Johor”.
He noted that the plan will be tabled to the Economic Action Council on 19 October.
“We need to explain why the measure (border reopening) was necessary as we cannot continue to be in this situation as many of our people are affected similarly the business sector as well,” Hasni said.
He stressed that revenue from the two land borders — the Causeway and the Second Link — contribute up to 50 per cent of Malaysian Customs’ tax collection, and the prolonged closure of borders will certainly affect the said revenue and subsequently the amount of tax collected.
Earlier this month, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy) Mustapa Mohamed disclosed that the reopening of the Johor-Singapore border is part of the federal government’s agenda despite increasing numbers of new COVID-19 cases in Malaysia.
While the Malaysian government recognises the high risks of doing so due to the pandemic — which has yet to show signs of slowing down — it is also crucial to address economic recovery in order to save livelihoods and businesses.
Reopening Singapore-Johor border “highly risky decision at this point in time”: WP’s Azhar Latip disagrees with Johor govt’s call for full reopening of the border
Singapore’s Workers’ Party (WP) politician Azhar Latip, however, said last month that the prospect of reopening the Singapore-Johor border is “a highly risky decision at this point in time” given that the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to subside on both sides of the causeway.
In a Facebook post on 30 September, Azhar, who contested in Marine Parade GRC this year’s general election, said that while he acknowledges that the southern Malaysian state is “grappling with increasing unemployment”, Singapore is also facing rising unemployment.
“In just the first half of 2020, thousands of Singapore-based businesses have already shut down leading to thousands of retrenchments. And the outlook for the 2nd half of 2020 is expected to be worse,” he wrote.
Azhar posited that Singapore should prioritise opening up jobs “once held by Malaysians to retrenched or unemployed Singaporeans” as a form of “civic duty to help our fellow countrymen and women to find employment”.
“If that fails or if businesses still insist on hiring Malaysians, the Malaysian workers need to make a commitment to remain in Singapore for a minimum period of time say, 3 to 6 months,” he said.
Azhar added that the government should implement regulations “to ensure employers provide suitable housing arrangements for their Malaysians employees”.
“There should never be a repeat of Malaysians left stranded and having to sleep at bus stops and MRT stations because their employers could not find accommodations,” he said.
Azhar’s statement was made in response to Hasni’s recent call to fully reopen the border to prevent approximately 100,000 Malaysians from losing their jobs.
The Chief Minister added that Johor has been a green zone for some time, so it was an opportune time for the border to be reopened for daily commute.
Mr Azhar, however, warned that reopening the border at this point will involve tedious “logistical requirements” and high costs of testing and setting up of laboratory facilities.
“Before COVID-19 came to our shores, the Singapore Johor border sees the passage of approximately 200,000 to 250,000 Malaysians into Singapore daily.
“Imagine the logistical requirements needed to conduct COVID-19 tests on such a large scale. And then there is also the not so simple issue of costs. Who is going to pay for the costs of testing and setting up of laboratory facilities at the borders? The employers would definitely not be too happy if they are made to shoulder the costs,” he said.
Speaking about the current COVID-19 situation in Singapore, Azhar also cautioned that Singapore is “still not out of the woods yet” with double-digit figures of COVID-19 cases being reported every day.
He also pointed out that community infections appear to be low “partly because” mass testing of the population has yet to be carried out unlike in migrant worker dormitories, where the bulk of the COVID-19 cases in Singapore are detected so far.
Singapore, said Azhar, should take heed from other countries such as South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, United Kingdom and Australia which have been experiencing a resurgence of cases as a result of easing their restrictions too soon.
“I do not deny that economic health is vital but so is the protection of people’s lives. If I had to choose, I would rather have a battered economy than dead bodies,” he said.
Azhar said that the present moment could be pivotal in the restructuring of Singapore’s economic model and to reduce dependence on a migrant labour force.
“It could just be the key to surviving in the current economic climate,” he said.
More than 15,000 M’sians lost jobs in S’pore, primarily in service sector, says human resources minister
More than 15,000 Malaysians have lost their jobs in Singapore between January and July this year, with the majority of them being those in the service industry.
The Malaysian Reserve reported Malaysia’s Human Resources Minister M Saravanan as saying in a parliamentary reply that based on statistics by the country’s High Commission in Singapore, as many as 11,123 Malaysian workers in the service sector in the Republic lost their employment.
Malaysian workers in Singapore’s manufacturing sector came in second with 3,604 workers having lost their jobs, while construction workers came in third with 939 workers, he said.
Saravanan was responding to Senator Liew Chin Tong’s question on the number of Malaysian workers in Singapore who have lost their jobs in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO), which began in March, saw the country shutting its international borders among a slew of measures to curb the spread of the virus.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin recently announced that the recovery phase of MCO will be extended to 31 December this year.
Singapore implemented its COVID-19 “circuit breaker” measures in early April. It was later extended until 1 June after a sudden spike in the number of cases in the country.
Bernama reported in August that applications for cross-border travel between the two nations under the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) schemes have reached their maximum quota for the first three days — 17, 18 and 19 August.
Johor Immigration Department director Baharuddin Tahir was quoted as saying that the Malaysian Immigration Department had received 180 RGL and 6,000 PCA applications for the first three days since 10 August.
“Under the RGL, we allow 400 people a week, so that means between 50 and 60 people per day. As for the PCA, it’s 2,000 people per day.
“The application results for cross-border travel will only be known a day before their travel dates,” he said.
The RGL and PCA were discussed earlier in a historic meeting between Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and his Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan at the midway point of the Johor Causeway.
With the implementation of RGL scheme, AirAsia has resumed its Kuala Lumpur to Singapore flights on 17 August, while the Johor Public Transport Corporation has also arranged shuttle bus service for the cross-border travellers without possession of a private vehicle.