MPs suggest ways to provide timely Covid-19 relief, highlight others who are in need

The MPs emphasised the importance of timely and targeted support to businesses and individuals grappling with challenges amid tightened curbs. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - A fund or programme dedicated to Covid-19-related economic support could allow the Government to provide timely and direct reliefs to small businesses, workers and freelancers affected by sudden pandemic-related measures.

This was one of the suggestions from MPs in Parliament on Tuesday (July 27) as they emphasised the importance of timely and targeted support to businesses and individuals grappling with challenges amid tightened curbs.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang) said having a dedicated programme would enable help to be dispensed more quickly, as there would be no need to table additional supplementary supply Bills when new spending is added, as is the current practice.

Speaking during the debate on additional support measures, he also highlighted several sectors which are affected by phase two (heightened alert) measures and have been left out in the recent round of assistance.

Companies which support the food and beverage and retail sectors, such as those operating in wholesale trade and logistics, are a less visible group of firms which have also been affected by the new heightened measures, Mr Liang said, noting how they are dealing with both supply side and demand side pressures.

"Some are looking to release workers with this latest round of no-dining-in restrictions," he said, appealing for wage support under the Jobs Support Scheme to be extended to firms which directly support the F&B sector.

Mr Liang's call was echoed by Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC), who pointed out that distributors and food producers are also suffering from the reduction in demand for goods and are in need of subsidies.

The F&B and retail sectors would also benefit from full waivers of foreign worker levies and work permit-related fees until the end of the year, Mr Wee said.

Firms in these sectors have problems finding Singaporeans to fill positions in the front line and back end, and many of these jobs are done by foreign workers. Such waivers would lighten the burden on F&B operators and retailers, he added.

Mr Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) highlighted the pains of freelance team sports coaches, such as those coaching hockey and football.

While some other freelancers have been able to pivot to online means effectively, such team sports coaches have seen a drastic decline in incomes, as "they face an uphill struggle to move their trade online", he said.

But many of these coaches have continued to coach out of their passion for the sport, Mr Sharael added, calling for more support for such individuals.

Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang) called for better timing of rental and fee charges, pointing out concerns over the recently announced increase in rental fee charges for hawker stall rents. He acknowledged that exceptions have been made in the light of the pandemic, but "this whole episode exemplified a seeming disconnect between the public and policymakers".

"I hope in future when similar issues arise, agencies can exercise more flexibility and sensitivity, when imposing rental and fee increases," he said, suggesting that ministries in charge of statutory boards and agencies should play a stronger gatekeeping role and make sure that such fee increases are approved before they are implemented.

Meanwhile, Workers' Party MP Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) suggested a review of rental support to small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) tenants which rent mixed-used property, such as shophouse units for both retail and residential use. Such tenants would not be able to obtain cash disbursements automatically.

SMEs and eligible non-profit organisations with an annual revenue not exceeding $100 million qualify for two weeks of rental relief in the case of tenants of government-owned commercial properties or four weeks for privately owned commercial properties.

Some SME tenants of mixed-use properties find the process complicated to manage and have also raised concerns about the costs of hiring help to assist them with making claims for disbursements, Mr Perera said, calling for an automatic service for such tenants to reduce their financial burden.

At the same time, Mr Edward Chia (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) noted how rental relief in this recent round of support measures is differentiated based on revenue.

He said that revenue may not be a sufficient assessment of a company's ability to withstand long-drawn challenges, and suggested that Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) could be added as a qualifying factor for companies in industries that operate with low margins.

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