Johor Bahru businesses plead for M'sia to reopen borders with S'pore

Tough times for JB businesses.

Matthias Ang | Sulaiman Daud | December 21, 2020, 06:54 PM

Businesses in Johor Bahru, Malaysia are struggling with the lack of Singaporean visitors since the start of the pandemic.

They have called on the Malaysian government to begin talks with Singapore as soon as possible to reopen the border, The Malaysian Insight reported.

One such entreaty was made by an adviser to the SME Association of South Johor, Teh Kee Sin, who said that many SMEs in the area were now worried about cash flow, given that a loan moratorium by the government had ended.

The government in Putrajaya must begin holding talks with Singapore about allowing the movement of people into Johor, he added.

Only hotels on islands and beaches are showing an uptick in recovery

Teh was echoed by the state Malaysian Budget Hotels Association chairman, Jarod Chia, who added that only hotels on islands and beaches were seeing an uptick in recovery after Malaysians were allowed to travel domestically with the recovery movement control order.

Meanwhile, hotels in the city centre are struggling, with a move to reduce prices having failed to achieve its expected results.

Chia said, "We are basically at a loss. We have to survive this period of time. If we lower the prices, it will actually mess up the entire market."

A bleak assessment of the situation was given earlier by Teh in November, with the Malay Mail quoting him as saying: "I guess business owners in Johor Bahru can write off this year since it has been a very challenging year for all of us."

Discussion between Singapore and Johor on re-opening borders was last held in Dec. 10

Previously on Sep. 10, Johor chief minister Hasni Mohammad said that the Johor state government has submitted working papers and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to Malaysia's foreign ministry on the matter.

Subsequently, on Dec. 10, a Facebook post by Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan revealed that he had discussed the matter with Hasni, amidst a wide-ranging meeting on relations between the two countries.

Vivian added that the priority was on safeguarding public health on both sides.

Nine months since Malaysia imposed Movement Control Order (MCO)

Malaysia imposed the movement-control order (MCO) on March 18, while Singapore flicked the circuit breaker switch on April 7.

It is estimated that between 400,000 and 500,000 Malaysians and Singaporeans, who travel between the countries for work, have stopped coming to Johor Bahru.

The Causeway is one of the busiest land crossings on Earth.

An estimated 40 per cent of bars, nightclubs and massage parlours are closing down in JB, with food and beverage and entertainment sectors the hardest hit.

Businesses were hoping that the borders will fully reopen after Aug. 31, but closure has been extended till Dec. 31.

Still, there are two avenues already in place for business travellers and long-term travellers.

The Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) allow those travellers to be exempted from the general ban on crossing the border.

Proposed third lane

On Nov. 22, in an interview with CNA, Hasni revealed details of a new proposal to potentially help facilitate the crossing of some 30,000 people between Singapore and Johor daily.

The proposed Daily Commuting Arrangement (DCA), a third scheme, would allow up to 30,000 commuters per day to make trips between Singapore and Johor.

Under this scheme the state government would, for example, issue travel passes every 10 days. Commuters could then use the passes to travel across the border for around three times within that period.

The Johor state government also mooted the idea of having nine accredited laboratories capable of carrying out Covid-19 testing for the travellers.

Local health professionals will be invited to step up testing and screening procedures.

Hasni said this third scheme would benefit students and Malaysians employed in Singapore who need to commute to and fro every day.

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Top image from Andrew Koay.