57 business chambers in Malaysia say 'critical' to resume operations amid reopening debate

Malaysia was into its 50th day of the movement control order on May 6, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - A total of 57 chambers of commerce and industry associations in Malaysia said it was "critical for businesses to resume operations nationwide", as they took an opposite stance to nine states that initially rebuffed the federal government's call to reopen most businesses from Monday (May 4).

The chambers in a joint statement on Wednesday (May 6) urged all state governments to "restart the economy together, given the close interlinking of supply chain among states".

The statement posted on the Facebook of the Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MICCI) added: "As leaders of the major chambers of commerce and industry associations in Malaysia, we are also committed to ensuring strict adherence to the established standard operating procedure by employers, who are responsible for the overall health and well-being of their employees."

Apart from MICCI, the other signatories include the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia, the Malay and Indian business chambers, the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers, the SME Association of Malaysia and Master Builders Association Malaysia.

The joint statement reflected the painful debate in Malaysia, and around the world, over how soon and how much to reopen economies that have been flattened by the virus.

Malaysia was on Wednesday into the 50th day of the movement control order (MCO) that was imposed on March 18 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

But from Monday (May 4), the country began its more relaxed "conditional MCO" or CMCO, by allowing most businesses to reopen.

Mass gatherings such as religious services, concerts and theme parks are still banned, and barbers and hairdressers remained shut with schools and universities.

The government has said that Malaysia, South-east Asia's third biggest economy, is in the "recovery phase"of the outbreak.

Malaysia on Wednesday reported 45 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, taking the cumulative total to 6,428 infections. It reported one new death, raising the total in the outbreak to 107.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, when calling for the reopening of most sectors of the economy from Monday, said the country suffered RM2.4 billion (S$800 million) in losses daily during the MCO, with total losses currently estimated at RM63 billion. Another RM35 billion will have to be added to this should the MCO be extended.

Nine of 13 Malaysian states initially refused to adopt the CMCO, with some saying discussions were first needed at state level to find out if they were ready to reopen.

The nine states included opposition pro-Pakatan Harapan states Kedah, Penang, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Sabah.

But the list also included states from Tan Sri Muhyiddin's own Perikatan Nasional alliance - Perak, Pahang, Kelantan and Sarawak.

This led to Senior Minister for Economic Affairs Azmin Ali to warn that the states that refused could face lawsuits from businesses.

The chief ministers of Penang and Sabah hit back at Datuk Seri Azmin on Tuesday (May 5), saying their refusal was because they wanted to save lives.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, waded into the fray on Tuesday, said the states were not consulted about the more relaxed MCO.

"Who is this minister representing? Industries? Corporations? Under the federal system, states have the right to make decisions," Datuk Seri Anwar said in a live Facebook session. "What is wrong with negotiations? Negotiate with them. I don't think there would be a menteri besar or chief minister who is not concerned about unemployment issues."

The joint statement by the chambers said the federal government's decision to reopen the economy is based on sound data and considerations, and aims to strike a balance between public health and the economy.

"The decision was made to prevent a further collapse of the economy, as companies can no longer afford to remain closed while they continue to have financial obligations to meet and continue to provide employment for workers, which translates into safeguarding the livelihood of the people," it said.

The statement added: "We need to save millions of jobs and ensure the survival of enterprises, but we can only do this if all parties stand united and act decisively to ensure business continuity and protect the well-being of the people."

By Wednesday, apart from Penang and Sabah, the other states that earlier rebuffed the federal government have decided to allow the reopening of most businesses after discussions at the state level, New Straits Times daily reported.

Selangor's Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah said the state, which surrounds capital Kuala Lumpur, must follow the more relaxed CMCO.

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