KUALA LUMPUR — Makcik Kiah was trending on social media soon after Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin used her as an example to illustrate the cash assistance that an average Malaysian stood to benefit from through the government’s Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package (PRIHATIN) in the early phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO).
Other names such as Madam Lee, Haji Salleh and Surjit Kaur followed suit when Muhyiddin used them when he announced the PRIHATIN for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) to mitigate the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis in the country.
In fact, these familiar characters provide a realistic analogy that is easily understood by the people, reflecting the country’s number one leader who understands, empathises and deeply cares about the people adversely affected by the MCO, said economist Prof Dr Barjoyai Bardai.
“The way he uses familiar characters clearly demonstrates that the prime minister truly empathises with every segment of people in Malaysia affected by the MCO, and he wants to make sure at the very least that there is food on every family’s table,” he said on Muhyiddin’s first 100 days in office as the country’s 8th Prime Minister.
In comparison to other countries, Barjoyai said many were shocked when the Malaysian government was able to allocate a large sum of money in direct fiscal injection through the RM35 billion PRIHATIN or caring package, which he described as a ‘humanitarian budget’.
Barjoyai said households which have lost their livelihoods and faced difficult times when the MCO was implemented had benefitted directly through various initiatives such as wage subsidy, one-off cash assistance, special incentives for frontliners as well as cash aid to e-hailing and taxi drivers.
However, he noted that one of the weaknesses that had to be dealt with after all these years was that the country lacked a proper database to know the profile and real status of the households, such as taxi drivers, fishermen, homeless and single mothers, and this had systematically delayed the delivery of the assistance.
He said Muhyiddin is also facing great challenges as more workers are expected to lose their jobs in the post-Aidilfitri period, and this would demand further humanitarian aid, especially in the form of food, for at least the next six months.
Meanwhile, socio-economic analyst Associate Prof Dr Madeline Berma praised the government’s response and swift action led by Muhyiddin in announcing economic stimulus packages that were done in a fair and timely manner, especially in helping to reduce the financial burden of the people.
“The effects of COVID-19 differ. You are in the same storm but not on the same boat. The T20, M40 and B40 boats are very different. The B40 group had lost their source of income as the majority of them were roadside hawkers and traders, then the husband and working children were laid off too,” she said.
According to the Special Survey: Effect of COVID-19 on the Economy and Individual (Round 2) conducted by the Department of Statistics Malaysia in April, a total of 70.1 per cent of respondents felt that the PRIHATIN package was effective in reducing financial burden.
However, Madeline said that although various grants and assistance had been provided by the government, it would only reduce the financial burden for a short term and did not completely solve the problem.
“The next big challenge will be in terms of employment and economic opportunities,” she said.
Meanwhile, private-sector employee Zulkarnain Osman, 40, said while people were facing unexpected hardships and without proper preparation due to the MCO, the prime minister’s announcement of various types of special aid and relaxation such as withdrawal from the Employees Provident Fund, really provided the people with much-needed relief and room to breathe.
“For now, what matters is survival, not a luxury, as the people also understand the outbreak is affecting not only Malaysia but the whole world. The approach taken by the prime minister has shown that he is a person who cares about the people,” he said.
Meanwhile, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan final year student Ahmad Fakharuddin Abdul Halim, 24, saw Muhyiddin as a father figure who cared deeply about his children’s situation without favouritism.
“I personally used the RM250 Bantuan Prihatin Nasional (BPN) cash assistance as capital to start a satay business in Kuala Berang, Terengganu and Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah) it provides me with pocket money while looking for a permanent job,” he added.