Waiting for the silver lining

Azlan Othman

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing distress to many businesses as they are not getting brisk sales during this Ramadhan, unlike in previous years.

While sellers and consumers are following directives, many businesses are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic and have now been hit harder with the cancellation of Ramadhan bazaars and subsequently, quiet Hari Raya mood.

Kampong Sengkurong tailor Haji Nasim Ahmad from Abdul Majeed & Company said business has come down by half following the COVID-19 outbreak. Not many people want to sew new clothes as they are not in the mood to celebrate Hari Raya. The first day of Raya is the best time as Muslims wear new clothes.

“Normally in the prelude to Hari Raya, tailors burn the midnight oil and will only sleep around 3am. Now, we close shop at 8pm. As we are located next to the mosque and with no Sunnat Tarawikh and five times a day prayers, it really hurts. Previously, worshippers congregate in big numbers and passed by our shop to go to the mosque,” said Haji Nasim, who has been in the country for over 40 years.

“The run-up to Hari Raya is the best time for business; where we could earn BND1,000 to BND2,000, but now, it is only BND500-BND600. Luckily, the landlord agreed to offer a 20 per cent rental discount, which is BND1,000 per month.”

“Insya Allah, I believe this situation is temporary and business will resume as normal in two to three months. I’ve never come across this situation in this country,” he added.

Meanwhile, sales staff member at De’iyad Company, which sells textiles, said response to the store’s festive clothing only received lukewarm response, despite the Raya sale from April 24-May 14.

“In previous years, we could not entertain all customers as they would flock in big numbers to the store. But now, customers are getting less and they only buy Hari Raya clothing for family photos and to hold their own family gatherings at home. There is no festive mood,” she said.

Another vendor, who chose to remain anonymous, said that based on previous experience, Ramadhan is the prime time to do business. “It’s always the best time to do business during Ramadhan, especially when you join the bazaar. I tried an online business, but the sale is not even BND30 a day. Nothing beats selling directly. For instance, if you want to buy clothes, it needs to fit on. Sometimes, if you order online, the colour may not match what has been advertised. Plus, online business will only flourish if a popular artist is tagged into it.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) following discussions with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and on the advice from the Ministry of Health (MoH) recently allowed the public to buy food to break their fasts during Ramadhan through a pre-order and drive-thru business concept at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium car park area.

The announcement was made following the cancellation of the Ramadhan bazaar under the control of the District Offices, Municipal Departments and Department of Youth and Sports this year, on April 6.

To support and assist business sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic, government authorities have introduced an e-commerce platform, ‘e-Kadai,’ as an alternative to market their products online.Another initiative, ‘Community for Brunei,’ offers a platform to gather and unite Brunei community to assist small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to sell their products in a virtual market and for the public to buy in a virtual manner, making payment digitally via debit or credit card.

The ‘Community for Brunei’ launched two projects namely ‘Community for COVID’ to give contributions to frontliners and ‘Community for Ramadhan’ to purchase through online delicacies for the breaking of fast and distributed to houses.

There is also the ‘Buy Local Produce’ campaign to ensure that the earning of Tamu vendors and local farmers are guaranteed and not affected by the temporary closure of several Tamu.

The initiative is also to ensure sustainablilty of local agricultural products such as fruits and vegetables and to encourage planting of agricultural produce.