Let care, compassion, concern for all become the ‘new normal’

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Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

Now, more than ever, we need to think creatively to come up with workable solutions to improve the people’s wellbeing, Henry Loh writes.

First, please sign our online petition to support our call for Parliament to sit for at least two weeks from 18 May, as a one-day sitting would make a mockery of the legislative arm of government.

The world celebrates 1 May as Labour Day. It’s a day to recognise the hard work, devotion and, literally, the blood, sweat and tears of millions of workers who have built and developed the country.

Apart from Malaysian workers, we also honour and duly recognise the millions of migrant foreign workers, including the undocumented, who have contributed immensely to our country’s growth and development.

Alas, this Labour Day in 2020 will differ from previous ones as all of us are under the fourth phase of the movement control order, which ends on 12 May. Yes, the stay-at-home order in Malaysia was imposed on 18 March because of the pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on the global economy.

From the start, it was apparent that lockdowns would highlight the dilemma of ‘lives versus livelihoods’.

That the coronavirus is contagious is undisputed: at the time of writing, 3.1 million people around the world have been infected and over 218,000 people have died from Covid-19.

In Malaysia, we have 5,851 infections, of whom 4,032 have recovered, with 100 deaths as of 28 April 2020. Even one death is a tragedy.

The number of cases would have been much higher if we did not have these lockdown measures. So the movement control order has helped “flatten the curve”, break the chain of infection and save lives.

But the nation also has to work diligently to solve the other part of the equation – the people’s livelihoods.

The Perikatan Nasional (PN) government has made some initial moves that have somewhat eased the dire economic woes of the poor and marginalised.

Food baskets of RM100 or RM50 were prepared through the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to be distributed to the poor and marginalised. MPs and state assembly members were asked to prepare a list of those in their constituencies who may need this aid. This was a good move by the PN government to help those who most needed it.

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Unfortunately, reports have emerged that the distribution of these food baskets has been discriminatory and that political affiliations have come into play. Former Pakatan Harapan human resources minister M Kula Segaran openly slammed what he called the double standards in the food aid distribution. The Kinta District Social Welfare Department had informed his office that food aid was distributed in his constituency but only to Umno, Pas and Bersatu divisions.

Opposition MPs in Penang have also complained that the distribution of food aid meant for the poor was being politicised and that Pas, Umno and Bersatu have been allocated food hampers. This is despite the PM’s assurances that the distribution of aid to the vulnerable should be bipartisan and would take care of those who need help.

Speaking of double standards, P Ramakrishnan highlights the differing treatment that VVIPs and ordinary citizens received for breaching the movement control order.

Deputy Health Minister Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali, the MP for Bagan Serai, had on 18 April uploaded photos of himself together with Perak Executive Council member Razman Zakaria and several others at a lunch gathering – clearly in breach of the movement control order.

The photos went viral, and many on social media called on the authorities to act against these VIPS for breaching the order. Under much pressure, the deputy minister apologised for his action but that did not satisfy many netizens and others.

Finally, on 28 April, 10 days after the incident and after much social media exposure, Dr Noor Azmi, Razman Zakaria and 13 others were charged in the Gerik Magistrates’ Court. They pleaded guilty for breaching the movement control order and were each ordered to pay a fine of RM1000.

For the record, since 18 March, 21,106 people have been arrested for violating the order. It makes one wonder, if not for the public outcry of double standards, would the authorities have turned a “blind eye” and allowed the VVIPs to get away with just a simple apology?

The PN government needs to tread carefully as, whether or not it likes it, it is seen as a “backdoor” government. To gain greater acceptance, it must be strong enough to uphold principles of good governance. For starters, it should ensure that the fight against corruption and abuse of power continues.

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Alarm bells were triggered when Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Takiyuddin Hassan (also Pas secretary-general) recently announced that PN MPs who were not in the cabinet would be appointed to lead government-linked companies.

Are positions as heads of these companies simply to be given as reward to the MPs who supported the formation of the PN government? Are these MPs to be given a free ride on this gravy train? Is this the standard of professionalism, integrity and accountability we can expect under the PN government?

The PN government must recognise the importance of the separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and legislature. Many had strongly criticised this government for grabbing power by enticing certain MPs to defect and form new partnerships, thus toppling the democratically and legitimately elected PH government. Unsurprisingly, many Malaysians feel the current PN government is not the one they voted for in the last general election.

The PN administration must therefore seriously rethink the move to only allow Parliament to reconvene for just one day on 18 May. Voters elected the MPs to be their voice and to raise pertinent issues that affect the people’s wellbeing.

PN must be creative and learn from other countries how – despite the ongoing pandemic and the need for social distancing – all elected representatives can still raise important questions and issues in their parliaments.

The big debate over how to revive the economy and to protect people’s livelihoods should be debated in Parliament. The economic stimulus packages, announced by the PN administration, involves a staggering RM260bn. Surely all MPs must scrutinise this to ensure that measures are put in place to prevent leakages and abuse.

Aliran has issued a statement and also launched an online petition to get the public to support our call for parliament to sit for at least two weeks as we feel a one-day sitting would make a mockery of the legislative arm of government.

This global pandemic has affected all our lives. Many have used this time under lockdown to evaluate their priorities in life. The global impact has made us realise how interconnected and interdependent humanity is.

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Yes, as global citizens, we should look beyond mere national boundaries and embrace all of humanity: we have a collective responsibility to look out for one another.

To this end, Aliran is disturbed by the xenophobia, prejudice and the at times outright hatred expressed against the Rohingya in our country.

Much misinformation and fake news has circulated in social media, encouraging and egging people to denounce the Rohingya community. It is true, in any community, there will be bad hats and undesirable elements, but we need to evoke our humanitarian spirit and reach out to all who are oppressed and downtrodden, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, religion or political beliefs.

Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

So what will the ‘new normal’ be like? This is something each of us will have to learn and experience as the pandemic subsides.

For sure, it cannot be ‘business as usual’. A responsible government must seriously look at ways to minimise economic disasters and human suffering. Perhaps we can’t be too idealistic; desperate times often call for desperate measures. All influencers – whether they are government politicians, opposition representatives, intellectuals, activists and others – should be open to fresh ideas and suggestions.

Take political science student Dineshwara Naidu’s call for a universal basic income for all and a progressive taxation system. He also asks for a more robust and united effort by all countries to tackle climate change.

Jeyakumar Devaraj provides many suggestions on how Malaysia can move forward after the pandemic. He talks about enhancing food security, a consumption tax and even quantitative easing.

Now more than ever, we need to think creatively to come up with workable solutions. The guiding principle has to be the welfare and wellbeing of the people, especially those in the bottom 40% of households and those who have been laid off and lost their livelihoods.

The rich must rethink their lifestyles, rejecting opulence and wastefulness.

Remember the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The world has enough for everyone’s needs but not everyone’s greed.”

Henry Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
30 April 2020
Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Gursharan Singh
Gursharan Singh
1 May 2020 10.51am

some experts can investigate if the country has been functionig more effectively during the COVID 19 period in the absence of most of the 222 Federal MPs and other political appointees compared to the period prior to COVID 19.

IF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN FUNCTIONING EFFECTIVELY AND IN A BETTER AND MORE EFFICIENT WAY THEN THIS MAY INDICATE THAT MALAYSIA [and States] SHOULD CONSIDER REDUCING THE NUMBER OF ELECTED OFFICIALS AND OTHER POLITICAL APPOINTEES.

THIS IS CRITICAL AS THE COST OF REMUNERATION PACKAGES [AND PERKS] AND ANCILLARY FACILITIES PROVIDED TO THEM WHILE IN OFFICE AND LATER AS PENSIONS [WITH SOME HAVING MULTIPLE PENSTIONS] FOR LIFE FOR SELF AND DEPENDENTS, CAN TOTAL IN HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF RM ANNUALLY.