We’re coming to the end of the first CB period with over 18,000 cases of coronavirus infection and 18 deaths. In view of the easing of community spread, some businesses will resume operations from May 12 2020, with a gradual resumption of selected activities and services over a few weeks. Below is an illustration from CNA that sums up some of the activities that will be allowed.
As you can see, except for the home-based food businesses which were dealt a devastating blow when someone tried to clarify their status, there isn’t much cause for celebration. The rest of the circuit breaker measures are still considered crucial and will remain in force until Jun 1 2020.
I’m not sure how many people are still being paid their regular income while working from home or not working. They are the lucky ones and judging from the relative calm out there, some of the less fortunate folks I know are probably the exception. While being unable to operate your food business from home could be devastating, what’s even more devastating is not being able to operate from a shop you have rented.
Fortunately, our government has a “solution”. They changed the law so that even if you can’t pay the rent, the landlord cannot evict you. Below is a Facebook posting captured from the Ministry of Law.
Sounds good? But wait a minute. What about the landlord? Most of the comments on that Facebook posting were the “happy birthday sir” sort of thing. It was Mr Shanmugam’s birthday. I had to dig a bit before I found a meaningful question.
Apparently, Jeslyn is a property agent and I’m sure she has more than a few clients in that predicament. If I may add, there are also some retirees who depend on their rental incomes to pay for their daily expenses. What are these old folks going to do if they are not compensated? The MinLaw gave Jeslyn the following reply.
Yao mo gao chor ah? You save landlords the “trouble” of taking legal action by removing their ability to take legal action? By taking away this option from the landlord, the situation would then “allow” (compel) the landlord to make “alternative arrangements” with the tenant. And what might some of these “alternative arrangements” be? The rental amounts owed will not vanish into thin air with any kind of “alternative arrangements”. The most obvious or perhaps even the only practical option is to defer the collection of rental. But for how long? As long as the tenant can’t operate, the amount will accumulate and even when allowed to operate normally in a month’s time, the tenant cannot realistically be expected to pay back the snowballed figure in the current economic climate.
Isn’t this just like robbing Peter to pay Paul? Who can the landlords turn to for compensation? Will they be having nightmares of Mao Zedong’s Land Reforms? Looking at the big picture, if all landlords in Singapore were to be compensated, the figure is going to be astronomical, thanks to the ever-escalating property prices in Singapore which so many people are banking their current dreams and future happiness on. This may be the most powerful cooling measure yet.
Some two years ago, I met a very enthusiastic and optimistic general manager. He was helping his cash-rich boss (foreigner) to start and grow a chain of shops in Singapore with the ultimate target of IPO. I warned him that almost every trade was already saturated in tiny Singapore. While Singapore’s numbers may look good on paper, our economy is actually quite vulnerable and unbalanced, relying almost entirely on finance, construction and real estate. As we wake up from this Covid-19 nightmare, are we going to discover to our horror that this country and its people are not destined to be as prosperous as they appear to be to the rest of the world?