Enforcement officers, please show empathy

Authorities need to be more empathetic in their enforcement activities as long as the basics are in place.

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Published by Malay Mail, Astro Awani & Focus Malaysia, image from Astro Awani.

The establishment of the Free Business Region – a direct translation from Wilayah Bebas Berniaga (WBB) – or colloquially referred to as “free trade area(s)” for traders (or micro businesses) under the initiative of the Minister for Federal Territories Tan Sri Annuar Musa is a right and good policy and which reflects the caring (prihatin) and empathetic character of the government. Set against the backdrop of the on-going economic impact of Covid-19, WBB enables and empowers traders, particularly those who are ordinarily residents of Kuala Lumpur except for Putrajaya where residency requirement is mandatory by Putrajaya Corporation, to operate without the usual legal and regulatory constraints.

Nonetheless, it’s been reported (Malay Mail, Feb 4) recently that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur/DBKL) officers have issued compound notices under the Licensing of Hawkers (Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur) By-Laws 2016 to eleven traders in theWBB at Jalan Desa Rejang 1, Setapak (under the parliamentary constituency of Setiawangsa) because they were found to be without the temporary operating licences. This was in conjunction witha movement control order (MCO 2.0) special action operation.

While the DBKL officers were merely carrying out their duty, a special case could be made to the authorities, especially the Minister for Federal Territories Tan Sri Annuar Musa, to relax enforcement measures as long as there’s compliance to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) both in terms of hygiene (personal-wise and public health) and other essential conditions.

But firstly, the basics of the concept of the WBB.

It means that all traders need to do is to apply for a temporary operating license from DBKL, Putrajaya Corporation or Labuan Corporation to operate in the authorised/zoned areas and comply with the SOPs. The temporary operating license is non-transferable and limited to locals only.

As such, the concept of the WBB presents job opportunities, albeit via self-employment, for locals – whether as full-time or part-time – at this time of economic uncertainty and pessimism due to continuation of the MCO (including also in its main variations i.e., conditional and recovery) which has resulted in certain sectors badly affected such as tourism and services.

According to Tan Sri Annuar Musa, approximately 3000 applications were received as of Dec 2020, with nearly 2000 applications given the license to operate. More applications are expected to be received in 2021 as WBB has proven to be successful – providing not only a viable and sustainable income source but also as a flexible avenue or even “improvised” market that’s made more convenient and accessible for buyers and consumers due to their site and location.

An analogy could be made here: Covid-19 has accelerated the physical fragmentation of the supply chain processes – end-to-end – leading to a low touch economy whereby the physical intermediary, e.g., such as a restaurant is no longer part of the equation. Likewise, the WBB has fragmented the physical marketplace so that it’s now more spread out thereby providing more choice and access in terms of location for consumers wary of crowd concentration and possibility of close contact due to space constraints, for example.

Moving back to the issue at hand, i.e., the need for authorities to be more empathetic in their enforcement activities as long as the basics are in place.

Within the looser regulatory framework of the WBB, authorities should equally adopt a flexible attitude and approach in dealing with non-compliance. Just like the concept of the WBB, a temporary paradigm shift is needed on the part of the authorities.

Non-compliance, therefore, shouldn’t be based on typical bureaucratic procedures such as licensing at this time of the on-going Covid-19 epidemic. But it should be based on public health and economic considerations. Meaning that, non-compliance in this context is all about whether the trader fulfils the public health requirements and meets the economic needs of society (as part of the other basic conditions).

Netizens would recall an incident outside of the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur that viralled over social media involving a young man who occupied an empty car park lot to sell drinks. Netizens’ outcry of injustice over the threat of enforcement by the local authorities was unmistakable. The video also captured a senior citizen expressing both her empathy and outrage over the incident. In fact, we could well add her bewilderment as to such purported stringency and inflexibility given the hardships so many are having to endure coming from the economic impact of Covid-19.

It’s also noteworthy that what could have amounted to a near-brush with the law, not only did the enforcement authorities finally relented but at the end of the day, the young man was able to sell many bottles from his car boot, thanks to sympathetic and empathetic customers.

The Malaysian Institute of Economic Research’s (MIER)’s Fourth Quarter (2020) Consumer Sentiments SurveyReport has revealed that “household finances at year-end [were] the weakest in nine months with respondents who reported being worse-off than before… rose to a three-quarter high of 42 per cent, even surpassing the previous year’s 40 per cent” (Malay Mail, Feb 4, 2021)”.

The findings are in sync with Emir Research’ own 4Q 2020 poll results in which many Malaysians appear to continue living in a state of uncertainty about the viability of the country’s economy. Nearly five out of ten are unsure whether the country’s economy is on a strong footing –which translates into 45 per cent.

Emir Research, on our part, has been calling for the economics of empathy – to be translated across all of government and the whole of policy-making and policy-enforcement.

In addition to the enforcement authorities from DBKL, we also strongly plead with other local authorities to refrain from taking action that would jeopardise people’s sources of income and means to put food on the table as well as sustain themselves and their families in other areas also.

It’s hoped that the concept of the WBB would be replicated in other major urbans areas in other states, and, therefore, enforcement can take place accordingly, i.e., with regard to the basics under an unprecedented and emergency (darurat) situation (and not under typical or ordinary circumstances).

By taking a step back in the name of empathy, enforcement authorities (whether within the WBB or outside as in other states) can – so long as the basics are complied with– go a long way to help the many of our fellow citizens who are suffering under the weight of unprecedented times brought about by what’s now an endemic Covid-19 and its on-going impact across all aspects of our life.  

Jason Loh is head of Social, Law & Human Rights at Emir Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

Bahasa Melayu

Diterbitkan oleh Astro Awani.

PENUBUHAN “Wilayah Bebas Berniaga” (WBB) – atau secara amnya dikenali sebagai “kawasan perdagangan bebas” untuk peniaga (atau perniagaan mikro) di bawah inisiatif Menteri Wilayah Persekutuan Tan Sri Annuar Musa adalah dasar yang betul dan baik yang mencerminkan sifat prihatin dan empati kerajaan. Dengan kesan ekonomi COVID-19 yang berterusan sebagai latar belakang, WBB membolehkan dan menghakupayakan peniaga, terutama mereka yang lazimnya menetap di Kuala Lumpur kecuali untuk Putrajaya di mana syarat tempat tinggal adalah wajib oleh Perbadanan Putrajaya, untuk beroperasi tanpa kekangan undang-undang dan peraturan.

Namun demikian, dilaporkan awal bulan Februari bahawa pegawai Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) telah mengeluarkan notis kompaun di bawah Undang-Undang Kecil Pelesenan Penjaja (Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur) 2016 kepada sebelas peniaga di WBB, Jalan Desa Rejang 1, Setapak (di bawah kawasan Parlimen Setiawangsa) kerana didapati tanpa lesen operasi sementara. Ini bersamaan dengan operasi tindakan khas perintah kawalan pergerakan (PKP 2.0).

Walaupun pegawai DBKL hanya menjalankan tugas, kes istimewa dapat dibangkitkan kepada pihak berkuasa, terutama Menteri Wilayah Persekutuan Tan Sri Annuar Musa, untuk melonggarkan langkah-langkah penguatkuasaan selagi ada pematuhan dengan prosedur operasi standard (SOP) dari segi kebersihan (kesihatan diri dan kesihatan awam) dan syarat-syarat penting yang lain.

Tetapi pertama sekali, konsep asas WBB.

Ia bermaksud bahawa apa peniaga yang cuma perlu lakukan adalah memohon lesen operasi sementara dari DBKL, Perbadanan Putrajaya atau Perbadanan Labuan untuk beroperasi di kawasan yang dibenarkan/dizonkan dan mematuhi SOP. Lesen operasi sementara tidak boleh dipindah milik dan terhad kepada penduduk tempatan sahaja.

Oleh itu, konsep WBB menyediakan peluang pekerjaan untuk penduduk tempatan – sama ada sepenuh masa atau sambilan – pada masa ketidaktentuan ekonomi ini dan pesimisme kerana berlanjutannya PKP (termasuk juga dalamnya variasi utama iaitu, bersyarat dan pemulihan) yang telah mengakibatkan sektor-sektor tertentu terjejas teruk seperti pelancongan dan perkhidmatan.

Menurut Tan Sri Annuar Musa, kira-kira 3000 permohonan diterima pada Disember 2020, dengan hampir 2000 permohonan diberi lesen untuk beroperasi. Lebih banyak permohonan dijangka diterima pada tahun 2021 kerana WBB terbukti berjaya – bukan hanya menyediakan sumber pendapatan yang mampan dan berterusan tetapi juga sebagai kaedah fleksibel atau bahkan pasar “improvisasi” yang lebih memudahkan dan senang diakses pembeli dan pengguna kerana tempat dan lokasinya.

Analogi boleh dibuat di sini: COVID-19 telah memangkinkan pemecahan proses fizikal rantaian bekalan – dari hujung ke hujung – yang membawa kepada ekonomi kontak rendah di mana perantara fizikal, misalnya, seperti restoran tidak lagi menjadi sebahagian daripada pengalaman pengguna. Begitu juga, WBB telah memecah-belahkan pasaran fizikal sehingga lebih tersebar disamping memberikan lebih banyak pilihan dan akses dari segi lokasi bagi pengguna yang berwaspada terhadap penumpuan orang ramai (kawasan sesak) dan kemungkinan kontak rapat kerana kekangan ruang, misalnya.

Berbalik kepada isu yang berbangkit, iaitu perlunya pihak berkuasa lebih bersikap empati dalam aktiviti penguatkuasaan mereka selagi asasnya (iaitu SOP) ada.

Dalam kerangka peraturan WBB yang lebih longgar, pihak berkuasa harus juga menerapkan sikap dan pendekatan yang fleksibel dalam menangani ketidakpatuhan. Sama seperti konsep WBB, peralihan paradigma sementara diperlukan oleh pihak berkuasa.

Oleh itu, ketidakpatuhan tidak boleh berdasarkan prosedur birokrasi biasa seperti pelesenan pada masa penularan wabak COVID-19 terus berlangsung. Tetapi ia harus berdasarkan pertimbangan kesihatan awam dan ekonomi. Maksudnya, ketidakpatuhan dalam konteks ini adalah mengenai sama ada peniaga memenuhi keperluan kesihatan awam dan memenuhi keperluan ekonomi masyarakat (sebagai sebahagian daripada syarat asas lain).

Netizen mungkin mengingati satu insiden di luar Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur yang melanda media sosial melibatkan seorang pemuda “mengambil alih” tapak letak kereta kosong untuk menjual minuman. Kemarahan netizen disebabkan perasaan ketidakadilan terhadap ancaman penguatkuasaan oleh pihak berkuasa tempatan jelas sekali. Video itu juga merakam seorang warga emas yang menyatakan rasa empati dan kemarahannya ke atas insiden itu. Sebenarnya, kita juga boleh menyatakan rasa kebingungan warga emas itu terhadap sikap keteguhan dan ketegasan pihak berkuasa memandangkan kesulitan yang terpaksa ditanggung ramai akibat kesan ekonomi COVID-19.

Juga perlu diperhatikan bahawa apa yang boleh dikatakan pengalaman hampir dikenakan tindakan undang-undang, bukan sahaja pihak penguatkuasa mengalah tetapi akhirnya, pemuda itu dapat menjual banyak botol dari but keretanya kerana simpati dan empati pelanggan.

Laporan Tinjauan Sentimen Pengguna Suku Keempat (2020) Institut Penyelidikan Ekonomi Malaysia (MIER) telah mendedahkan bahawa “kewangan isi rumah pada akhir tahun [adalah] paling lemah dalam tempoh sembilan bulan dengan responden dilaporkan dalam keadaan lebih buruk daripada sebelumnya … meningkat ke paras tertinggi tiga perempat iaitu 42 peratus, bahkan melebihi 40 peratus tahun sebelumnya” (Malay Mail, 4 Feb 2021)”.

Hasil kajian ini selari dengan hasil tinjauan 4Q 2020 EMIR Research di mana ramai rakyat Malaysia nampaknya terus menjalankan kehidupan dalam keadaan ketidakpastian mengenai daya maju ekonomi negara. Hampir lima dari sepuluh tidak pasti sama ada ekonomi negara berada pada tahap yang kukuh – yang diterjemahkan kepada 45 peratus.

EMIR Research sering kali menyeru supaya adanya ekonomi empati – diterjemahkan ke seluruh kerajaan dan keseluruhan pembentukan dasar dan penguatkuasaan dasar.

Selain daripada pihak penguatkuasa DBKL, kami juga meminta pihak berkuasa tempatan yang lain untuk tidak mengambil tindakan yang akan membahayakan sumber pendapatan serta cara pemeliharaan diri dan keluarga di daerah lain juga.

Diharapkan konsep WBB dapat ditiru di kawasan-kawasan bandar utama di negeri-negeri lain dan, oleh itu, penguatkuasaan dapat dilakukan dengan sewajarnya, iaitu, berkenaan dengan pematuhan asas-asas di bawah keadaan darurat yang luarbiasa dan bukan di bawah keadaan biasa.

Dengan mengambil langkah belakang atas nama empati, penguatkuasa (sama ada di dalam Wilayah Persekutuan atau di negeri-negeri lain) dapat – selagi asas-asasnya dipatuhi – membantu ramai dikalangan kita yang susah di dalam keadaan yang belum pernah berlaku sebelum ini yang disebabkan COVID-19 yang akan menjadi endemik (iaitu kekal) dan kesannya yang berterusan dalam semua aspek kehidupan kita.

Jason Loh Seong Wei merupakan Ketua Bahagian Sosial, Perundangan dan Hak Asasi di EMIR Research. Sebuah organisasi pemikir bebas berfokuskan saranan-saranan dasar strategik berdasarkan kajian yang menyeluruh.

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