The Sarawak government’s latest special assistance package — Bantuan Khas Sarawakku Sayang 8.0 — could not have come at a better time.
The aid package amounting to RM285.47mil for, among others, discounts on utilities and rental for the first six months of this year, will reduce the burden of entrepreneurs and the ordinary citizens as Sarawak continues to recover from the crippling COVID-19 pandemic.
One hawker, a relative of mine, who sells keropok lekor and cucur vadai, in fact couldn’t contain his tears when I told him about Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg’s eighth edition of BKSS following the implementation of the first movement control order (MCO) in March 2020 to curb COVID-19.
“Yes brader, I read about it in your paper (he was referring to Suara Sarawak, New Sarawak Tribune’s sister paper). I am very grateful to Abang Jo; I’ve seen three chief ministers come and go.
But I think Abang Jo is the most caring and sympathetic CM so far.
“He is concerned about the welfare of the rakyat. I heard from my mother that he’s just like his father (the late Tun Datuk Abang Openg Abang Sapiee), caring and always concerned about the welfare of the people, regardless of race.
“You know what, I didn’t vote in many elections but I decided to come out and vote in the recent 12th state polls, simply because I wanted GPS to win big. I even forced my wife and two children to vote,” said Kali, 67 (not his real name), with tears flowing freely down his cheeks.
Kali said the six-month extension of the 50 discount on stall rental at markets under the jurisdiction of local councils would definitely ease his burden, as business had been very poor lately.
“COVID-19 has affected every one of us; no one is spared. The BKSS packages are a real godsend.
Thank you CM. May God continue to give you good health for many more years so that you will continue to lead us and Sarawak,” said the grateful hawker.
The discount on rental is expected to benefit 10,165 licensed hawkers. Additionally, about 87,500 hawkers and traders under the local councils will get a one-off grant of RM1,000.
The state government has spent RM5.3 billion on the BKSS aid packages since March 2020.
In 2020, BKSS 1.0 worth RM1.15 billion was launched on March 23; BKSS 2.0 (RM1.1 billion) on April 10; BKSS 3.0 (RM300 million) on May 8, and BKSS 4.0 (RM104 million) on Oct 23.
Last year on Jan 21, Abang Johari set aside RM405 million for BKSS 5.0; RM1.4 billion for BKSS 6.0 on May 28, and RM800 million for BKSS 7.0 worth on Aug 4.
No other state government has set aside such a huge amount for successive assistant packages for its people to ease their burden than Abang Jo’s GPS government.
To be honest, I believe these aid packages put a strain on the state government’s coffers but the prudent financial management through various investments and the imposition of a five per cent sales tax on petroleum products in 2019 has enabled the Abang Jo administration to plough back the money to Sarawakians.
Up to September 2021, Sarawak has collected RM6.8bil from sales tax on petroleum products, hence there is no issue of the state’s financial reserves running dry as some quarters have claimed.
The government is aware of the plight of its people and the BKSS packages are meant to ease their burden and the difficult times which local businesses are going through.
Other measures which the government has introduced under BKSS 8.0 (for a period of six months this year:
- 50 per cent discount on housing rental under Sarawak Housing Development Corporation;
- Rental exemption for SMEs premises owned by statutory bodies and state government-linked companies;
- Domestic, commercial and industrial users will continue to enjoy five to 25 per cent discount on monthly electricity bills; and
- One-off RM500 cash relief for tambang operators, school buses, cabs, public buses and passenger vans.
Nevertheless, the Sarawak Federation of Chinese Associations (SFCA) has warned that all these aid measures under BKSS will come to naught if there is no effective monitoring and implementation.
I agree with its president Datuk Richard Wee’s remark that the “BKSS scheme is only as good as its implementation and delivery”.
While expressing gratitude and welcoming the latest package, he wants the implementers to monitor the needs of the people and “feel the pulse of the people and the business community to ensure the intended aid reaches the targeted groups”.
Meanwhile, I wish to highlight the plight of the Indian restaurateurs in Sarawak. These entrepreneurs are going through a very difficult patch lately.
Many are forced to tutup kedai, all because they do not have the skilled chefs. This category of people is usually sourced from India, but because of the COVID scourge, the immigration and labour authorities have banned local eatery owners from recruiting chefs from India.
They have been told to recruit Indonesian chefs instead, which is not feasible.
Hopefully, the state government will look into the plight of these Indian restaurateurs and resolve the issue or else Indian eateries will soon be a thing of the past in this Fairland Sarawak!