Johor assemblyman calls for reopening of Johor-Singapore land border

The borders between Malaysia and Singapore have been closed since March 18 because of the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO: ST FILE

JOHOR BARU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A Johor assemblyman has urged the state government to set up a task force to review the opening of the two land crossings between the state and Singapore.

Bekok assemblyman S. Ramakrishnan said that the focus should be to reduce the time period and cost of following the standard operating procedure while crossing the border.

"Laboratory testing facilities must be at the site of entry, in view of the number of people crossing, so that results can be received much faster.

"The cost of testing should also be looked at, including the possibility of it being subsidised," he said. Bekok constituency is located near Segamat in central Johor.

Dr Ramakrishnan was commenting on The Star's recent report on Johor Menteri Besar Hasni Mohammad saying that the state government was not capable of finding employment for 100,000 Malaysians who may lose their jobs because of the prolonged closure.

The borders have been closed to daily commuters since March 18 when Malaysia imposed the movement control order because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Datuk Hasni had added that the current unemployment rate in the state was already at a record high of 18 per cent, with 35,000 people jobless.

Dr Ramakrishnan said that the large number of Malaysian workers in Singapore and Singaporeans crossing the border for shopping, entertainment and tourism was critical for the state's economy.

"Unfortunately, the state government did not show any urgency in opening the border much earlier.

"Knowing the urgency of the matter now, steps should have been taken to shorten the quarantine period and reduce the cost of Covid-19 tests with minimum interruption to cross-border travelling.

"Unfortunately, this matter (border reopening) was left to the federal government to handle," he said in a statement.

He added that development agencies such as Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda) should be proactive and aggressive in attracting more foreign direct investments into Johor.

"So far, investments from China seem focused on property development, and therefore we need more investments from other countries and MNCs (multinational corporations) focused more on non-property sectors," he said.

He also suggested that the state government needed to develop infrastructure for the digital economy.

He stressed that since the pandemic has altered social interactions, communication, business transactions and work life, digital platforms could enable businesses to continue their businesses online and virtually.

"Irda should lead the shift to digital and gig economies. Government agencies should play a crucial role in raising awareness and digital skills of small and medium-sized businesses in the state," Dr Ramakrishnan said, adding that the state government must help traders embrace e-commerce to become digital entrepreneurs with new future skills.

Mr Hasni had earlier said that: "The time has come for the federal government to find a way to balance the people's lives and their livelihoods, as we do not want the scale to tip only towards lives due to the Covid-19 pandemic."

Mr Hasni said that 5 per cent to 10 per cent of businesses in the Johor Baru city area had closed as a result of cash flow issues since the border closure in March.

He noted that the economy of Johor, which previously had some 250,000 people commuting daily between both countries to earn their keep, had been hard hit.

Mr Hasni said he was in touch with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to find a way to keep the Covid-19 situation under control while moving to fully reopen the border.

Mr Hasni also said it was an opportune time for the border to be reopened for daily commute, as Johor had been a green zone for some time.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.