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Extend rental waivers for tenants of govt agencies until end of 2020

The Government has said that it is committed to helping businesses survive and keeping workers gainfully employed during the Covid-19 crisis.

The writer says high rents for the rest of the year may force companies to retrench workers or close.

The writer says high rents for the rest of the year may force companies to retrench workers or close.

The Government has said that it is committed to helping businesses survive and keeping workers gainfully employed during the Covid-19 crisis.

Yet, as an owner of an online business-to-consumer business — a small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) — that sells to customers worldwide and a JTC industrial property tenant, I am disappointed that the government agency JTC Corporation is offering us only a month’s rental waiver in May.

During the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis when our industrial property was under the Housing and Development Board, I recall that we were given significant rental reductions for more than six months. We appreciated that very much as it helped tide us over and retain our workers. 

This time around, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and other ministers have warned that the Covid-19 crisis would be worse and more prolonged than Sars, and could drag for more than a year. Singapore is expected to go into a recession this year and the extraordinary measures to cope with Covid-19, totalling S$60 billion, show that the economy is in the doldrums.

In light of that, our landlord JTC’s offer of a month’s rental waiver is at odds with reality.

If the Government is serious about helping SMEs, why is it not offering JTC industrial tenants longer rental waivers as well as reductions thereafter?

Already, our business has come to a near-standstill due to the global economic slowdown, movement controls and lockdowns. Our customers are average folk who are now cutting their spending due to job or income losses. 

Owing to factory shutdowns, our suppliers are unable to supply us with many goods that we can put up for sale. Our shipping agents are unable to ship orders that we may still get once in a blue moon, because of the suspension of delivery services in a growing number of countries worldwide. Without the same level of business seen before Covid-19, how are we going to pay our rent?

The Government's priority is to save workers' jobs, but it is naive to think that can be achieved when their employers have to continue paying JTC's unsubsidised rents in the months to come. Doing so may force them to retrench workers or close for good. Either way, there will be many more unemployed workers looking for jobs.

Furthermore, when our economy finally starts to turn the corner, we will be in worse shape because those SMEs that closed will no longer be around. Jobs that slip away will be lost forever.

Is it not wiser for government agencies to offer its industrial, office and agricultural tenants rental waivers for the rest of this year and significant rental reductions next year when the situation improves?

Have views on this issue or a news topic you care about? Send your letter to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number. 

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