Wednesday, July 8

100-day challenges – balancing between traders and consumers

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HAVING taken the oath of office as Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP), I realise the challenges and responsibilities that come with it are not easy.

It involves establishing the trust and interests of over 32 million Malaysians, all of whom are undeniably consumers, and at the same time creating a balance between traders and consumers – the main function of this ministry. Each decision requires both firmness and sensitivity.

Challenges

The first day I set foot in the KPDNHEP offices on March 11, the Covid-19 virus had begun to appear on Malaysian soil. The dangers threatened not only the lives and health of the people, but also the economy of the country.

June 18 was the 100th day I led KPDNHEP. The first 100 days were not a red carpet, not a trial period, not even a honeymoon.

It was a time filled with world-class challenges; a new government; convincing the people to comply with prevention measures; the economy severely affected by the crisis; and the reconstruction of the post-Movement Control Order (MCO) domestic trade sector. Reports and data became the best spokespersons for my 100-day achievements.

Recalling the past, just one week after I became Minister, the government announced the implementation of Phase 1 of the MCO from March 18 to April 1. The atmosphere was of panic as many thought the government was imposing a curfew. The first experience of dealing with the MCO was certainly scary, with various versions of fake news on social media.

A small number of consumers stormed the supermarkets, panic buying as they feared food would run out. My Deputy Minister went straight to a supermarket in Cheras to assess the situation.

The issue was further aggravated by claims on social media of a lack of daily essential food items such as onions, bread, eggs, and some other supplies, which made the atmosphere tenser.

Supply of essential goods

Without delay, I engaged with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry as well as industry players comprising suppliers, wholesalers, and retailers. I also went to a chicken farm in Rasa, Hulu Selangor; a chicken egg farm in Yong Peng, Johor; a bakery factory; face mask maker; large and small supermarkets; and a public market.

The assurances given by all suppliers in the food supply chain were a blessing to me and the people of Malaysia. The people understood the entire supply chain and were no longer shocked when they saw empty shelves waiting for new supplies.

The confidence of the people was enhanced by KPDNHEP enforcement officers conducting daily inspections across the country, including wholesalers and retailers, to ensure adequate supply. A total of 155,226 business premises were inspected involving seizures of RM43.9 million and 1,131 cases of compounds totalling RM778,600.

We also developed standard operating procedures (SOP) that were implemented across all business premises so that consumers could buy essential items while at the same time protecting them from the contagion – contributing to the nation’s successful containment of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The issue of supply and price of face masks and hand sanitiser dominating public attention was successfully addressed by meeting with industry players. Measures including imposing export restrictions, limiting sales quantity, controlling the maximum price of face masks at RM1.50, and increasing imports successfully fulfilled demand.

KPDNHEP has also sued companies for RM382,400, involving unprofessional offences, misdemeanour offences, hoarding solely for the purpose of raising prices, and a variety of other offences that are most commonly convicted under the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011.

Prices of goods

We are also in the KPDNHEP-MITI-MOA taskforce and have developed SOP and FAQs to enable businesses to gradually reopen for economic recovery during the implementation of the RMCO.

Implementation of the Festive Season Price Control Scheme (SHMMP) for Hari Raya, Kaamatan, and Gawai Dayak also helped to alleviate consumer concerns over the prices of essential items in preparation for the celebrations.

A total of 35 types of essential items have been included in the SHMMP list. The period has been shortened to 15 days to balance consumer needs and boost business. A total of 33,238 retail and wholesale premises were inspected, with 147 cases resulting in a compound value of RM308,500.

Revitalising the economy

The second challenge is to ensure the recovery of an economy crippled by Covid-19, especially the retail sector. Keep in mind, domestic trade and services contribute substantially to the country’s GDP and I have directed ministry officials to prepare the plan for recovery.

Many additional sectors have been opened including barber services. Plans are underway to carry out Malaysia National Sales Campaign, Sales District, and Buy Malaysian Products Campaign from July to December 2020.

New norms

During the MCO to RMCO period, I’ve seen online businesses trending. Online transactions have doubled, helping to boost the country’s economic growth.

Of course, something new isn’t easy. There have been issues with fraud as well as shipping constraints. But it has also developed a lot of spin-off businesses. Many people are now used to e-wallets, e-orders, and many have become online entrepreneurs.

I am impressed with KPDNHEP’s ongoing efforts to implement consumer advocacy across all platforms, including shopping tips and how to avoid being cheated. The cooperation of PDRM, KPDNHEP, and other parties has helped to curb online fraud, as transactions online dominate the new norm of transactions.

Explore the future 

My first 100 days have recorded a lot stories. My experience as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister has greatly helped me to build on these larger and more important challenges. I am fortunate to have such a great team of people working together to achieve the vision and mission of KPDNHEP and the government. The Deputy Minister and I are confident of our commitment and support.

I did not have the opportunity to go to my parliamentary constituency in Kapit, Sarawak during my first 100 days. Nonetheless, the sophistication of communication has allowed me to communicate effectively with my officers and voters and resolve their concerns. I also had the opportunity to review the implementation of SHMMP for Gawai Dayak in Kuching and Serian.

I am proud of KPDNHEP’s contributions to the government and the people in the fight against Covid-19, which has produced world-class results. I am pleased with the success of my ministry in implementing the powers entrusted to us, especially regulating supply and prices of essential goods, developing SOP to ensure the safety of the people, and rebuilding the country’s economy.

The first 100 days were challenging but very reassuring. I am optimistic that we can take pride in rebuilding Malaysia into a prosperous and united nation.