Re-Think The Conditional MCO, Please

A stretch of vehichles queue for inspection at a police roadblock ereted to combat the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak at Jalan Kuala Kangsar, Ipoh – RONNIE CHIN/The Star

Locking down a country is an expensive exercise, no doubt.  After 45 days and almost RM63 billion loss made, the government has decided to loosen the Movement Control Order (MCO) a bit to kickstart the economy.

The announcement of a Conditional MCO (C-MCO) by the Prime Minister was made as part of his Labour Day speech.  Most sectors of the economy will be allowed to operate again on Monday 4 May 2020, except those that involve services where physical contact cannot be avoided, or where crowd control is virtually impossible.  Restaurants are allowed to operate as long as they meet requirements such as checking the body temperature of customers, prepare a registry for customers to leave their contact details in case contact tracing is required, maintaining a 2-meter distance between tables, and place lines on the floor for customers to queue before paying their bill.

Offices, too, should produce their own Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and prepare physical health risk mitigation measures such as providing body temperature checks, separating cubicles, common area and items cleaning procedures, flexible working times so that workers do not all come to the office at the same time, and so on.

For those who are health-conscious, they can now resume jogging, or riding their bicycle, play tennis, badminton or even golf – as long as social distancing is maintained and not done in a large group.

Some say it is high time that the government returns the responsibility of not spreading the virus back to the public.  After all, it is not like the virus is going to go away in such a short time.  It will take another two years before the war against COVID-19 can be won.  Therefore, we should learn to live with it.  Just follow the recommendations: maintain your social distance and wash your hands thoroughly more frequently.

The only problem is rules and regulations to Malaysians are like bicycles are to fish.  They just don’t care.  Almost immediately after the announcement was made, traffic on the road increased, parents took their children out to do groceries, some are already without face masks.  Wet markets no longer see social distancing.  Videos and photos of the Batu Berendam Wholesale Market, the Sumayyah Market in Tumpat, and the Taman Maluri Wet Market showed that it was free for all again.  That night and even last night, cars were back on the roads while motorcycles raced through the wee hours of the morning. And to top that all off, a policeman was killed by a speeding Toyota Hilux driven by a drunk driver!

I understand that it is costing the government in the region of RM2.4 billion for every day that the economy is under a lockdown.  I understand the need to kickstart the economy so that money could be made and jobs could be saved.  But pray tell, how does playing tennis or going jogging help kickstart the economy?

The announcement of the implementation of the Conditional MCO was made on a Friday, such wrong timing, because the implementation starts the following Monday.  There is not enough time for companies to have SOPs and physical health risk mitigation steps in place.  I do not know why is there a rush to get things done but this is just like that stupid decision to allow barbers and hairdressers to operate – a decision that was rescinded the following day.

The government should have given time between Monday 4 May to Friday 8 May for these measures to be in place first and announce the first day of work as Monday 11 May instead.

It is also good that restaurants are allowed to open, but dining-in is really not necessary.  Most restaurants have remained open since the start of the MCO to allow operators to deliver food to customers or for them to do self-pickup.  Yes, sales must have been a lot less than normal then, but how many tables and chairs can a restaurant have with social distancing being a prerequisite?  The whole idea of an MCO is to reduce exposure to the Coronavirus.  People will be going back to work and will definitely need to eat.  Therefore, I think it would be wiser to maintain restaurant operations for takeaways and deliveries as the volume of sales will go up anyway.  That would help reduce the exposure to the Coronavirus.

According to Dr Phillippa Lally, a Senior Research Fellow at the University College’s Behavioural Science and Health department, it takes more than two months before a new behaviour becomes automatic – 66 days to be exact.  What it means is that it takes 66 days for this new habit of wearing face mask, washing of hands for more than 20 seconds, social distancing and so on would take 66 days before it becomes a habit.

For that reason, during the first three months of military training no recruit or officer cadet are allowed to have visitors or go on outings because new values are being grinded into them.  Once these values have become a new habit, they are allowed some freedom.  These new habits will only become a lifestyle in six months, the time that they are allowed to graduate.  For officer cadets, they spend another six months being turned into officers from mere soldiers.

Even Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Lam Sai Kit agrees that the Conditional MCO has been introduced too early.  Citing the 95 local transmissions out of 105 new cases on Saturday, the Nipah virus expert said that there are still too many local transmissions for the government to relax the MCO.

The academician who was involved in the discovery of the Nipah virus in 1998 said in a press statement that he does not object to the loosening of MCO, but the relaxation is far too much and too soon.

“With the relaxation of MCO, there is every likelihood of a surge of new clusters and cases. Can we really cope with increased testing and contact tracing?

“Can we empower and engage the community to do their part in preventing the spread of the coronavirus?” he asked.

He expressed concerns that if the country faces a resurgence of cases, the MCO would have to be reinstated and what had been undertaken would be wasted.  Already on Sunday 3 May, we are seeing 122 new cases, with only 52 imported cases while 70 others are local transmissions.  There were two deaths as well.

The government should seriously re-think this Conditional MCO and not bow down to any pressure given by any quarter.  It was doing very well with its way of handling the COVID-19 crisis and citizens sang praises for it, until the PM decided to announce the Conditional MCO.

(This article was first published by The Mole )

RMO Day 26

Graph showing COVID-19 total cases, daily cases, total recovered, daily recovered, and total deaths in Malaysia from 11 March 2020 till 12 April 2020

Every day at 5pm I would listen in to the daily briefing by the DG Health Ministry. Although I applaud the efforts being done by the Ministry, I should caution against any form of optimism. Today, 12 April 2020, is no different. It is the 26th day of the Restricted Movement Order.

In the first graph, the blue line at the top represents total number of cases while the grey line beneath it represents total number of those who have recovered. Optimally, we should see the blue line tapering and flattening, the grey line showing exponential increase whilst decreasing the gap between the two. It is only when the blue line flattens and the grey line crosses it could be breathe a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.

Graphs showing daily COVID-19 deaths and recovered cases in Malaysia from 11 March 2020 till 12 April 2020

In the second graphs, you can see that the number of daily deaths is showing a steady increase while those who have recovered daily is going on a downward trend. Our percentage of deaths have increased from 1.58 percent to 1.62 percent of total cases. 

Sure, today we also saw a drop in the number of daily new cases, but we are still getting at least 150 new cases daily. And there still are thousands of results pending, and I am sure a huge number of those with the virus still undetected.

If anyone is optimistic that we are winning the war, that certain sectors of industries ought to be allowed to operate, or that internal borders should be re-opened to allow movements, think again.

This war is far from over.

Brown Will Never Be White

Alec Douglas-Home, Boris Johnson and Muhyiddin Yassin

The UK’s centre-left newspaper The Guardian has made a scathing attack on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s decision to appoint Muhyiddin Yassin as Malaysia’s 8th Prime Minister.

The attack was made in an editorial and reeks of rancid prejudice by accusing His Majesty of executing a ‘royal coup’ that had helped topple the PH government.

The editorial however failed to explain that it is the constitutional prerogative of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to choose a member of the Dewan Rakyat who in his judgment, commands the confidence of the House, as Prime Minister. And in his judgment at that point of time, it was Muhyiddin who had the most support – the most goal scored before the final whistle was blown.

It was impossible to keep the circus going without dragging the whole nation down both economically as well as security. Tensions were high at that point and public order had to be protected. As sovereign, it is the duty of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to also end the circus to maintain peace and order for the public good. This was the judgment in para 226 Dato’ Dr Zambry v Dato’ Seri Nizar [2009] 5 CLJ 265.

The editorial should also know that Queen Elizabeth II had had two Prime Ministers whose appointments were controversial and did not have the support of the majority of the House of Commons.

The Queen appointed Sir Alec Douglas-Home to succeed Harold Macmillan ,who was ill and resigned in 1963, denying the popular Rab Butler’s chance of becoming the PM. The Queen was accused of colluding with Macmillan to have Douglas-Home appointed without the process of a leadership election.

Buckingham Palace made it clear then that the choice for a new PM should come from the Tories alone, a very highly unusual advice, maintaining a process called ‘You Choose, We Send For’. There was no consultation whatsoever with Labour or other political parties.

As a matter of fact Boris Johnson’s government is still without majority support in Parliament!

Therefore, why is it so wrong for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to go by the Federal Constitution, interviewed every single MP, consulted the other Rulers, before making the decision to appoint Muhyiddin? He went by the book to make sure he correctly appoints his Prime Minister who will be heading His Majesty’s government!

Is it because we can never be right if we go by the book because we are not white?

When Wisdom And Maturity Win

His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong

The political crisis started a long way back with one man thinking that the seat of the Prime Minister should be handed to him, while the incumbent felt that he should hold on to it for as long as possible. There was no Malay, Chinese, Indian, Jawi, UEC or Adib involved in the whole fiasco.

When His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong stepped in to solve the crisis, there were as many calls for the Parliament to be dissolved as there were for the incumbent to handover the premiership to his so-called designated successor. I wrote to friends the following:

“The Raja is the landowner. It is the constitutional prerogative of the Raja to choose whom in his judgment should lead the administration of HIS government. Our duty every five years or so is to vote for those whom we think should represent us. That is where our responsibility ends.”

His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong did exactly that – solving the crisis according to what is accorded to him in the Federal Constitution. With the two warring parties claiming the right to the premiership, political parties went back and forth changing their allegiance to each of the party who in turn claimed that he has the most support.

His Majesty went on to call each MP for a private interview trying to see who supports whom. And many got trapped in that simple but virtually meaningless definition of ‘majority support’ thinking that the candidate with the most support should become the Prime Minister. However, there is nothing in the Federal Constitution that gives such provision.

Article 43 (2) (a) of the Federal Constitution states that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as Perdana Menteri to preside over the Cabinet a member of the House of Representatives who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the House. In other words, exact number of support for any of the candidate is not a requirement for a decision to be made by His Majesty. The interview is only for him to gauge the level of support each candidate has.

The method used is similar to the ones used in Perak by the late Sultan Azlan Shah, and in Kedah several years later, to determine who can command the confidence of the most of the Dewan to become the respective States’ Menteri Besar. In all three crises, the maturity and wisdom of the Ruler is incumbent (Dr Zambry v Dato’ Seri Nizar [2009]5 CLJ 265) para 232. The method to determine the issue of “majority support” is the prerogative of the Ruler and is non-justiciable (op cit).

It is in my opinion that “majority support” was determined by the total number of MPs from any one bloc. There was the Anwar bloc – MPs who wanted Anwar to become the next PM. Then there was the Mahathir bloc – people who wanted the elder statesman to continue. And we had the Muhyiddin bloc – those who solidly supported Muhyiddin’s candidacy. Both the Anwar and Mahathir bloc had to combine to challenge Muhyiddin’s number of support. But whether they like the other bloc’s candidate that they were forced to accept is questionable. Hence, the one with the most unambiguous support would be Muhyiddin.

No one else has the right to choose a Prime Minister. The right claimed by Anwar Ibrahim to become a Prime Minister, and the so-called promise by Mahathir to hand over the premiership to the former, are against the Federal Constitution. Only the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has that right, as prescribed in Article 40 (2) of the Federal Constitution. Conventions are not laws, and are therefore not legal. It is because of this illegal promise that got us into this trouble last week.

Even after the announcement by Istana Negara on the swearing-in ceremony of Malaysia’s 8th Prime Minister was made, there is still talks of numbers and majority made by the other party. But what is the point of scoring 50 goals after the final whistle was blown? And going back to Article 43 (2)(a) where it is the Constitutional prerogative of the King to choose an MP as the PM whom in his judgment commands the confidence of the member of the House, such SDs carry no weight whatsoever. It was just an attempt to create negative perception about the wisdom of the King.

We are certainly blessed to have a wise King who made full use of his rights in the Constitution and his freedom to consult to settle this chaos. Despite taking precedence above all other persons in the Federation, His Majesty did not forget to consult all the other Rulers. After all, he represents all the Rulers. And he stood his Constitutional ground, gentlemanly, when others did not.

Was The Speaker Playing Politics?

Pic courtesy of Malaysiakini

The Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat yesterday issued a statement saying that he will not issue a notice for the August House to convene for a special sitting at the request of Mahathir.

Many said that the Speaker was playing politics, and possibly because his son works for the DAP. However, I am in the opinion that the Speaker was right.

Any person who is to become a Minister must first take an oath of office and allegiance and an oath of secrecy in the presence of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong before taking office, as prescribed by Article 43(6) the Federal Constitution.

When Parliament is dissolved, the PM and cabinet remain in office as a caretaker government until a new government is formed and sworn in.

In this case, Mahathir resigned, and the Cabinet automatically resigns with him. His oaths of office, allegiance and secrecy are null and void. He is no longer a Prime Minister. He was appointed as an Interim PM, but there was no swearing-in ceremony. Constitutionally-speaking, he is NOT a Prime Minister.

Therefore, if he is not a PM, he cannot instruct the Speaker of the House to issue a notice to convene for a special sitting when Parliament is in recess according to Rule 11(3) of the Parliamentary Meeting Rules.

Who Is Anwar To Demand?

Anwar demands for the seat of the Prime Minister (pic courtesy of The Third Force)

Anwar Ibrahim has been waiting for the past 22 years to become the PM. The closest he ever got there was 23 years ago when he became the acting Prime Minister for a short while. And then he got expelled from UMNO that was being led by Mahathir.

There may have been an understanding or even an agreement between Mahathir’s PPBM and PKR, DAP, and PAN that Anwar should become the PM after an X number of years of Mahathir being at the helm.

While Mahathir has never mentioned a specific date for a handover, Anwar has been selling the idea of him being the next PM to the public, forcing a perception that it is his right to take over the helm from Mahathir.

He even said to members of the press that he is open to the idea of Mahathir joining his cabinet. That is how cocksure he is of becoming the PM.

But, since when is the Prime Minister’s post the right of an individual? Even if a Prime Minister can determine his successor, only the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has the constitutional right to choose a Prime Minister.

Article 43(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution gives that right to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to choose a Prime Minister from amongst the members of the Lower House whom he thinks has the confidence and support of the majority of the members.

Back during BN days it became a convention that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong chose the one named by the incumbent, but that was then. That was a time when BN commanded the majority in Parliament.

Unlike the BN, this is a government of motley crew. Helmed by a Prime Minister from a party with the least number of seats, support from within can go either way.

And to get a sure majority support, the Opposition has to be roped in; something unthinkable during the BN days. However, given a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea, I doubt that it is in the best interest of the Opposition to back someone seen to have the support of the DAP.

To put Anwar Ibrahim in that post in ways other than those prescribed in the Federal Constitution would be a revolution, and there is nothing democratic about revolutions.

It is the sole right of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to choose a Prime Minister to lead his government. There is no other form of right agreed by all parties when this nation came into being. Dreamers can therefore continue to dream.

Negara Ku

When the bill was passed on 18 August 1954 to pave way for the first Federal Elections, the Alliance set up a 30-man council to organise their election campaign.

A key feature in the campaign manifesto was to safeguard especially the promises to safeguard the rights and interests of the Malay and Chinese communities.

One of the key points agreed was the need for a common language as a national language. There was little doubt that the Malay language was to be upgraded as the national language. At the same time the manifesto guaranteed protection, growth and development for the language of other communities.

Lord Reid, who was tasked with drafting the Federal Constitution, presented that ‘Malay should be the national language and English should be retained as an official language for 10 years’ (Report of the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Commission 1957, para 170, London: HMSO CO No.330).

The final version of this part of the Federal Constitution can be found in Article 152, in Part XII.

When the Director-General of the Ministry of Education recently made an excuse on behalf of a school found to have its students singing the National Anthem ‘Negaraku’ in Mandarin, I attribute that to either his ignorance of the Federal Constitution and the special position of the Malay language, and also of the National Anthem Act, 1968.

To give a lame excuse that the anthem was sung NOT in a formal event was a bad move on his side. To give an even lamer excuse that the anthem was sung in Mandarin in order to help non-Malay students to understand the National Anthem made it even worse. Whoever advised the DG to say such things should offer his or her resignation right away. If there was no one advising, perhaps the DG himself should offer to resign.

There are only two versions of the Negaraku according to the National Anthem Act, 1968. In the attendance of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the full version is played. The shorter version is played in attendance of the Raja Permaisuri Agong or other Rulers AFTER the respective state’s song has been played.

You can find the score of the anthem in a schedule made under Section 2 of the said Act, and also the lyrics. The lyrics is in neither Mandarin nor Arabic. It is in Malay, the national language. There are no other versions of the Negaraku.

Therefore, be it an official or unofficial event, the Negaraku has to be sung in Malay, and not in any other language. There is no unofficial version of the Negaraku in the Act.

To help non-Malay students understand and embrace the meaning of the lyrics of the anthem, you can print its meaning in whatever language that you want, but the anthem shall be sung in Malay.

Some detractors used the excuse that the Negaraku was adapted from a French tune called ‘La Rosalie’ which was said to have been composed by Pierre-Jean de Béranger. But there is no evidence to support this as de Béranger was a lyricist whonwas known to have used the tunes of others for his songs. Perak was the first to use the tune for its state anthem ‘Allah Lanjutkan Usia Sultan’ in the 19th century.

But whatever song a national anthem was adapted from, you sing it as it should be sung, according to its lyrics. ‘God Save the Queen’ came from a popular Scottish tune, ‘Remember O Thou Man’ and was used in the national anthem of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The ‘Star Spangled Banner’ was adopted from a popular English song, ‘To Anacreon in Heaven’.

But we never hear the Hindi version of ‘God Save the Queen’ in schools in England, nor have we ever heard of a Mexican version in schools in the US. A national anthem is a national symbol, like the national flag. It is to be sung with respect and honoured as a rallying point – a symbol of unity.

To suggest otherwise or to make excuses to defend stupidity is just blasphemous.