On Saturday (April 25), four government bodies — the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Housing and Development Board, and the Urban Redevelopment Authority — issued a joint media statement saying that home-based business operators must meet certain criteria to continue operating during this circuit breaker period or face a $1,000 fine.
Many netizens believe that this ruling came about after Suria actress-turned-influencer Ateeqah Mazlan posted a video of herself on social media.
The now-deleted video has since gone viral, in which she was seen making calls to the authorities to get a clarification on whether home-based food businesses are allowed to operate under the new regulations of the extended circuit breaker.
Her actions however, invited an outpour of hate and criticism. She was labelled as a “snitch” and many home-based business owners condemned her for causing them to lose their rice bowl.
So now that home-based food businesses are forced to temporarily cease their operations (this is explicitly stated by HDB), how are the owners coping with the situation?
Vulcan Post spoke to two of such owners to get a first-hand perspective on how this news have impacted them (author’s note: responses have been edited for brevity).
Yani Arshad, 36, Co-founder Of Mangkok Kami
My husband and I started Mangkok Kami in late 2017, selling halal variations of the Japanese beef bowl from home.
The news came as a shock as we were dependent on our food business for a big chunk of our monthly income. After the initial shock, I got very stressed (thinking about our finances).
While we totally understand the need for home-based businesses to cease, the news could have been better delivered to manage our expectations. They could have given us at least one-week notice for us to clear (our stocks) or deal with our customers, giving us time to plan ahead.
Not only that, it was also very confusing because there was varying responses from the different government agencies. MTI had responded to some home-based business owners that their business can still run, as long as the self-collect option was not offered to customers.
HDB said the same thing on April 22, but the rule was revised the very next day. All home-based F&B businesses must now cease operations, and this information was ‘hidden’ in the FAQ section of their website.
The criteria also had some grey area. Technically, I could still operate because my business is conducted purely online and I only accept delivery for my orders (we pay our friends who are Grab drivers to help deliver the orders).
Ultimately, the relevant authorities should have spent some time to find out how great the impact might be (for business owners) if there’s an abrupt halt and figure out instead how to minimise contact when conducting food deliveries, much like how big firms such as GrabFood and Foodpanda are handling it.
As a home-based business owner, I’m not asking for much — just the ability to find income and make ends meet.
My husband’s income has been severely affected since the onset of Covid-19 back in January. Mangkok Kami has helped to cover the loss of his income, and it was one of the ways for us to afford our bills, responsibilities and raise three kids, along with income through odd delivery jobs and our savings.
We have since applied for all the necessary financial aid (not approved yet), but the help we might receive won’t be enough to tide us over. While we’re grateful for the government grants, it takes time for approval and for the money to be credited. Ideally, we should make use of any opportunity to find income and in our case, it was our home-based business.
Rina Muhammad, 60, Home-Based F&B Business Owner
I started my business since the 90s. At the start, I only made traditional kueh lapis as there weren’t many home sellers baking it, but I began venturing into baking other goodies such as pineapple and Nutella tarts over the years.
When I first heard the news, I was really worried as I had already purchased the bulk of the basic ingredients with my own money.
As most of my customers are regular customers, I do not collect any deposits from them and will only collect payment after their orders have been collected or delivered.
To add on, I typically produce an average of about 10,000 to 12,000 pieces of tarts during the festive season. I already had about 1,000 to 2,000 pieces of orders coming in for Hari Raya, but when the ruling came along, my orders went back to zero and I now have a store filled with unused ingredients.
Thankfully, I have very supportive customers who understand my plight and are willing to hold their orders until the circuit breaker is lifted.
I’m also lucky that this home business is not my only source of income so I am not financially struggling because of this closure.
Regardless, I don’t think this temporary cessation is necessary as there are other workarounds to allow home-based businesses to operate. If the reason for this ruling was to reduce human interaction in order to curb the spread of the virus, we can always do contactless delivery and accept only cashless payment methods.
F&B Sector Continues To Be The Hardest-Hit
The Covid-19 has taken a toll on many sectors, and this ruling has once again established that the F&B sector continues to be the hardest-hit.
As mentioned by Halalfoodhunt in a video appeal, the vast majority of home-based businesses are selling only to make ends meet and some of them depend on this entirely as their income.
In fact, a lot of people have turned to home-based selling of food mainly because they have lost their jobs since Covid-19 swept our nation.
For the Malay Muslim community, many of them thrive on making Hari Raya goodies for income and due to this sudden ruling, they have had to bear the cancellation of orders and food wastage.
Speaking to these affected business owners, it’s clear to see that they have proactively made changes to comply with existing hygiene and safe-distancing measures in light of Covid-19.
While Minister Masagos Zulkifli has criticised those who “incite” home-based F&B operators to put pressure on the Government to grant exceptions as “irresponsible”, we think it’s only fair that the voices of those affected are also heard.
Their plea is simple: allow them to earn income by letting them operate, and they are more than willing to comply with safe-distancing measures.
For now, we can just hope that the measures are alleviated for small home-based businesses across the board.
Featured Image Credit: The Halal Eater / The Burning Kitchen