KUALA LUMPUR, July 23 ― As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect the lives of all Malaysians, the government has introduced several financial aid packages to help stem the economic fallout.

Since March 2020, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has unveiled eight financial stimulus packages ― four in 2021 alone.

According to the Finance Ministry, the eight financial stimulus and comprehensive aid packages stand at a whopping RM530 billion in value, benefiting some 20 million people and 2.4 million businesses nationwide.

Malay Mail looks at how these four stimulus packages introduced this year have worked in tandem to help Malaysians weather the pandemic, inclusive of a brief interview with founder and chief executive of Petra Riyaz Hotels & Resorts Datuk Seri Mohammed Shaheen Shah Mohd Sidek on how these financial aids have benefited one of the most hard-hit industries in the country.

1. Malaysian Economic and Rakyat Protection Assistance Package (Permai)

Announced on January 18, the Permai assistance package ― valued at RM15 billion ― was aimed at improving on-going initiatives and also speeding up the implementation of related initiatives.

Under Permai, a total of 22 initiatives were implemented including the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) and relevant healthcare measures to combat the pandemic.

Notable initiatives included the improved wage subsidy programme 3.0 (PSU) under the Social Security Organisation (Socso), tax exemptions, enhancements to the Employee Provident Fund’s (EPF) i-Sinar Program and retaining loan moratorium facilities nationwide.

For Shaheen Shah whose operations include the five-star luxury The Riyaz Lavanya Resort and Villas and the dash Resort in Langkawi, the loan moratorium is one of the most impactful assistance for the hospitality and tourism industry to date.

He said that there was practically zero business since January this year which made it difficult for hotel operators to sustain a healthy cash flow, lamenting there was at most only five per cent occupancy in the overall managed hotels nationwide.

“As for the loan moratorium, that's a great help. If you say whether the government should be applauded, yes. It definitely played a big part for everyone who has financing problems,” Shaheen Shah said.

Despite having the smallest allocation of all four financial stimulus packages announced this year, Permai provided the stepping stone for Malaysia to kickstart its mass inoculation drives nationwide with 20 per cent or RM3 billion allocated specifically for this purpose.

2. Strategic Programme to Empower the People and Economy (Pemerkasa)

Announced two months after Permai on March 17, the Pemerkasa aid package ― valued at RM20 billion ― aimed to boost economic growth, support business, and continue targeted assistance to the people and sectors that are still affected as states beganmala to transition into the conditional movement control order (CMCO).

Pemerkasa comprises a total of 20 initiatives and further aimed at accelerating the NIP which saw an increased allocation from RM3 billion to RM5 billion.

As with its predecessor, Pemerkasa also sought to alleviate the burden faced by small and medium enterprises severely affected by the pandemic, especially small contractors.

This was achieved through the channelling of RM2.5 billion to help small projects at grassroots level such as repairing infrastructure and public facilities, renovating strata homes including fixing broken lifts in public housing areas and building shops for local communities.

To facilitate the reopening of businesses, around one million SMEs were also allowed to apply for the one-off Special Prihatin Grant (GKP 3.0) worth RM1,000 each.

Pemerkasa also sought to empower people with disabilities, those who have lost jobs, youth and women by providing them with various financial aids.

3. Strategic Programme to Empower the People and Economy Plus (Pemerkasa+)

Announced on May 31, the Pemerkasa+ aid package ― valued at RM40 billion ― is double that of its predecessor with emphasis placed on beefing up the healthcare system, sustaining previous welfare programmes and helping businesses weather the lockdowns.

The financial package, unveiled a day before Malaysia entered a total lockdown, is aimed at expanding Malaysia’s healthcare capacity, extending wage subsidies and lengthening existing loan moratorium.

Acknowledging the financial difficulties faced by vulnerable groups which relied on daily wages, a total of RM2.1 billion was allocated to the government’s Bantuan Prihatin Rakyat (BPR) initiative.

Also included in the extension stimulus package was an additional RM500 allocation to the existing GKP 3.0 initiative on top of the RM1,000 previously announced.

To prevent massive layoffs, RM1.5 billion in additional wage subsidies was to be disbursed by the Social Security Organisation (Sosco) which would have seen some 2.5 million employees and 200,000 employers benefiting from it.

As for the loan moratoriums, retrenched workers and micro and small businesses ― numbering some five million borrowers nationwide ― affected were allowed to apply for an automatic three-month extension or reduce repayment by half for up to six months.

Despite not being listed here, Shaheen Shah said the hotel industry and in particular his own operations have nonetheless benefited from two of the government’s stimulus packages dubbed Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package (Prihatin) and Penjana (the National Economic Recovery Plan) through the aforementioned PSU 1.0 and 2.0 respectively.

He said the programme ensured employees in his company retained their existing wage packages without having to opt for reductions when the country entered a nationwide lockdown beginning March 2020.

4. National People's Well-Being and Economic Recovery Package (Pemulih)

By far the second largest and latest financial aid package unveiled to date, Pemulih ― valued at RM150 billion ― is the first stimulus package set to be implemented throughout the National Recovery Plan (NRP) following its announcement on June 28.

To put this into perspective, the Finance Ministry has disclosed a total of RM97.9 billion worth of initiatives under Pemulih are meant to spearhead people’s welfare while the remaining RM51.1 billion is meant to support business sustainability. The remaining RM1 billion is allocated to complement the government’s ongoing NIP initiatives.

As with all previously announced stimulus packages, Pemulih aims to sustain previous aid programmes, support businesses, ramp up vaccination and complement efforts to put the country back on the recovery path under the four phases of the NRP.

As of July 20, the Special Committee on Ensuring Access to Covid-19 Supply (JKJAV) numbers show that 43.1 per cent of the country’s adult population has received at least one vaccine dose, and exactly 20 per cent are fully vaccinated.

For Shaheen Shah whose hotel operations is located in the heavy-tourism island of Langkawi, ongoing vaccination programmes have evidently bore intended results in part due to intensive measures to inoculate economic frontliners in anticipation of a reopening of the tourism sector later this year. 

“The vaccination program in Langkawi is doing well. All my employees are fully vaccinated.

“I think what the government should do now is start executing post-pandemic plans as we head towards herd immunity. They could start with a Langkawi travel bubble (both domestic and international) once we get 70 per cent of our economic frontliners vaccinated,” he said.

Of the aforementioned allocation, a total of RM10 billion is to be channelled directly towards low- and middle-income households affected by the public health crisis through the government’s BPR initiative.

Combining the four aforementioned stimulus packages, the amount set to be channelled back to the people through BPR stands at RM4.9 billion to date of which a total of RM4.7 billion has been disbursed from January to May 2021.

Additional financial assistance would also be given through the newly established Special Covid Aid (BKC) programme (estimated 11 million households and individuals set to benefit) and Income Loss Aid (BKP) fund (estimated one million individuals set to benefit) with allocations of RM4.6 billion and RM500 million respectively.

Accordingly, measures announced under Pemulih would see that those eligible be guaranteed financial assistance from June to December 2021.

Among others, federal lawmakers irrespective of their political affiliation, were also provided RM300,000 each for the implementation of the Food Basket Aid within their respective constituencies. A separate RM10 million is also allocated exclusively for similar aids targeted towards the Orang Asli community.

As a continuation of existing measures, an additional RM5.1 billion allocated under Pemulih will also be channelled towards GKP 4.0 for some one million eligible SMEs and an additional allocation of RM3.8 billion towards the Wage Subsidy Programme (PSU) 4.0 to save the jobs of some 2.5 million workers affected.

Those who are unsure what form of government assistance they are eligible for can visit the Finance Ministry’s website here.