By Anisa Pinatih
International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) consultation with Malaysia last month concluded that the Malaysian economy is set to recover in 2021, with growth projected at 6.5 per cent, driven by a strong recovery in manufacturing and construction. Similar to Malaysia, in other countries in Asia, the authorities’ well-coordinated policy responses to the pandemic have helped mitigate the macro-financial impact of the crisis.
In 1Q 2021, construction sectors are indeed more prepared to deal with the pandemic impacts and have developed multi-pronged business continuity plans. Government policies play a major role in supporting construction sectors’ recovery; and below are five of them.
Allowing the sector to continue operating
In Malaysia, construction is among the economic sectors that are allowed to operate during the second movement control order (MCO). Among the scope of works are critical repair and maintenance, major public infrastructure construction works and construction workers’ accommodation buildings. The government’s decision to allow construction to continue to operate is to ensure the country’s economic recovery process, avoid high unemployment rates and ensure that people continue to gain access to basic and critical necessities.
In Singapore, critical works were allowed to continue operating and the government instructed that newly arrived work permit and S-pass holders to take an on-arrival test. In Indonesia, the president mandated the Ministry of Public Works and Housing to accelerate the delivery of various infrastructure projects. This is to move the construction sector so that it can spur the country’s economic growth.
Monitoring workers’ health and safety
In Hong Kong, the government conducts on-site testing services. This provides convenience for the workers to undergo the tests; and minimises costs borne by employers. The government also established inspection teams to review the preventive measures adopted at various construction sites.
In Singapore, the Ministry of Works has continued to improve the end-to-end screening processes to curb the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Today, workers will only serve SHN for a few days at hotels while awaiting the results of their on-arrival tests. Workers who clear these tests will then proceed to serve their remaining quarantine period and complete their end-to-end onboarding process, such as medical examination and residential permit, all under one roof.
In Malaysia, the government tasked CIDB and contractors to improve accommodation and provide quarantine facilities for workers who are infected or are suspected cases. To ensure compliance, the Ministry of Works has intensified inspection and will take immediate disciplinary actions on all contractors who do not comply with the SOPs.
Allocating the 2021 budget
In March 2021, the Singapore’s Ministry of National Development announced key policies to accelerate the transformation of the built environment sector and position the sector to emerge stronger in the reopening of economy. They include the introduction of a new growth and transformation scheme that adopts a value chain approach; an extension of the construction productivity and capability fund; and an enhanced buildability framework.
To help individuals take on new jobs in growth sectors, the government of Singapore also allocated an additional S$5.4 billion to a second tranche of job incentives and training to assist workers who require additional support. Meanwhile in Malaysia, the 2021 budget for the built environment was structured for economic survival and social well-being to help Malaysia get back into positive growth.
Rolling out support initiatives
Looking at the impact of the second MCO, the Malaysian Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) decided to extend the period of support initiatives to reduce the burden of contractors. This was implemented following feedback from the industry players and professional associations.
Meanwhile, the government of Singapore set aside S$1 billion for the job growth incentives to encourage employers to hire locals. The incentives provide eligible employers with substantial salary support for all new local hires at all wage levels, with higher support for mature hires. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) also waived the levies for all S-Pass and work permit holders for the duration of their stay-home notice (SHN) from January to September 2021.
Accelerating the industry transformation
The government of Hong Kong has launched a self-developed Housing Electronic Plan Submission System (HePlan), to approve building plan applications uninterruptedly during the COVID-19 pandemic. HePlan is the first electronic submission and comprehensive e-service for submission and approval of building plans.
In Singapore, the government has adopted a value chain approach to industry transformation. This is introduced to support the formation of strategic alliances among progressive developers, builders and consultants across the construction value chain. The expected outcomes include productivity savings through the use of design for manufacturing and assembly (DfMA) and integrated digital delivery (IDD) technologies.
In brief, countries in Asia have introduced drastic measures to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, which has adversely impacted the economy. Construction sectors are key in the recovery so it is essential to continue to roll out and sustain the support initiatives.