Stimulus package helps Sabah SMEs to recover


The Menaq factory in Papar.

KOTA KINABALU: The ‘stay at home’ period has taken on a new meaning for the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In March, a decision was taken by the federal government to restrict all business operations except essential services by implementing the Movement Control Order (MCO).

Not even a month, SMEs in Sabah started to feel the pinch with some of them already giving up, letting their staff go and many others hinted of closing down business.

Nurul Firdah is turning to the internet to expand her market.

This included Nurul Firdah Noordin, an entrepreneur from Kampung Taun Gusi Padang, Kota Belud whose income is depending 100 per cent on her food paste business.

“I have been selling food paste such as sambal and mango slices under my company Anugerah Qyra Sdn Bhd since 2016 by directly selling them to customers, through agents, expos and also pop-up booths. I participated in most government activities nationally, and the MCO period made me almost give up, especially on the first phase because I did not see it coming, and I never experienced such isolation period before.

“However, I calmed myself down and took the opportunity to get involved in community service through an NGO, Briged Negaraku, where I saw many other people are even affected badly. It was my motivation to keep going and just hanging on there,” she said.

Nurul Firdah, who is also the deputy president of Tunas Usahawan Sabah Association, revealed that her income decreased up to 90 per cent as the controlled movement had affected her production. Selling activities on the first phase of the MCO was cancelled, and it continued to the next phases for about three months.

She said it was understandable the demand for her products went down due to the decreasing income of her customers. When the government announced its economic stimulus package worth RM250 billion on March 27 about nine days after the implementation of MCO, Nurul Firdah said it was the long awaited light at the end of the tunnel. With the fund channeled to the people, she said there would be hope for the market soon.

“Looking at the news on daily basis, it was predicted that the MCO will be continued because Covid-19 cases in Malaysia and Sabah are increasing. I know there will be no income for the next few months, while some said business will be affected until end of the year.

“On April 6, the government once again announced additional stimulus package for SMEs, where the Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said a special grant of RM3,000 will be given to micro-SMEs. The amount was not that big compared to our loss, but at least it is a good restart for me to get more raw materials for my products. I am thankful for the assistance,” she said.

Nurul Firdah also hoped that the other business players who received the grant would use it for their business wisely and keep in mind that it is going to be a challenging year.

“We need to be more alert on the new norm and start utilising the internet for marketing. It is a tough path ahead, but we are tougher,” she said.

Apart from the RM3,000 grant, about 4.8 million workers from SMEs also benefited from the government’s wage subsidy programme. Under the federal government’s special SME stimulus package, all employees with salary below RM4,000 a month, will benefit from the wage subsidy programme.

Companies with 200 staff and above are eligible for a RM600 wage subsidy, while companies that employ between 76 and 200 employees will receive RM800 for each worker.

Meanwhile, companies that employ between one and 75 employees will receive RM1,200 for each worker.

Zarinah with her products at an expo she had participated in.

Zarinah Nawawi, the owner of Menaq Sdn Bhd from Papar was one of the SMEs qualified for the wage subsidy programme.

Although her sambal business was badly affected by the MCO, Zarinah said she never let go her two permanent staff. With the announcement of wage subsidy, she said it was a huge relief because the distribution of her products was totally stopped in the first month of the MCO.

“Under the brand Menaq, I have three main types of sambal namely Ikan Masin, Udang Kering and Kicap since 2017. Most of these sambals were sold through social media, agents, stockists, expos, pop-up booths, grocery stores and also supermarkets all over Malaysia, and some in Brunei.

“During the MCO period, our operations were stopped for two weeks because we needed to apply for permission to operate from the ministry. MCO is something new to us and the ministry, so everything was slow and a lot of waiting games.

“When we finally obtained the approval to operate, stocks and market became limited. It was difficult for us to get raw materials. My products were stuck for some time because of transportation problems.

“Demand from our agents in Lawas and Limbang, Sarawak, and also Brunei could not be fulfilled because the spread of Covid-19 in the state did not allow our products to go in. Since all Ramadhan bazaars and exhibitions were cancelled nationwide, our sales also dropped drastically.

“Fortunately, we had the opportunity to venture into new market where we registered our business in e-commerce platform in Shopee,” she said.

The 43-year-old expressed her gratitude to the wage subsidy, and also additional RM3,000 one-off aid and had planned to use them in the best possible manner. The aid, she said, would help her to purchase some raw materials and packaging to continue operating.

Some of the food paste products from Anugerah Qyra Sdn Bhd.

Zarinah, who is also a member of Persatuan Usahawan Antarabangsa Sabah, said most of her entrepreneur friends were thankful for the thoughtful assistance from the government.

“We are committed to come back stronger and contribute to the government by bringing more Malaysian food to the international market. After a few months affected by the MCO, we are now working on our cash flows and hopefully the market will recover fast,” she added.

Zarinah is among local entrepreneurs registered under Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority (Sedia), Department of Industrial Development and Research Sabah, Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), Fisheries Development Authority of Malaysia (LKIM), Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (Fama), Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) and Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).