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Fight Covid, not the people, not Tommy Thomas

The widespread perception is that there is a serious trust deficit in Malaysia, attributed largely to politicians’ transgressions

Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

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It looks as if the emergency declared in Malaysia has had little impact so far in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.  

To continue blaming the public for non-compliance with restrictions has become a joke on social media.

Many believe that the various modifications to the ongoing partial lockdown, which has stretched on and off over months, has not helped much, as single-digit daily Covid-19 cases have climbed to four-figure levels now.

Malaysian authorities and the current undemocratically appointed government cannot go on pretending anymore.

Can we admit to bare facts?

First, a state of emergency does nothing to the coronavirus.

Second, the various movement control orders are more reactive than proactive.

Third, our frontline defence is at a vulnerable point, and if it crosses the safety line, things could get a lot worse.

Fourth, trying to blame foreign workers for the spread will not stop the coronavirus in its tracks.

Fifth, even the already much-delayed vaccination programme is not a passport to be free of the coronavirus.

In short, the present crop of leaders have failed miserably so far in our battle against the pandemic, even as they try their best to stay in office at all costs.

Their failure has been felt most severely on the economic and healthcare frontiers at a time when the country’s constitutional democracy has been betrayed by the unelected government.  

Wisdom deficit

The widespread perception is that there is a serious trust deficit in Malaysia, largely attributed to politicians’ transgressions.

The many exposes in the country would have led to widespread protests had they happened in other countries. Malaysians should be praised for their patience and endless hope for correction.

Beneath all the acrimonious manoeuvrings that have put the nation in poor light even at the regional level, lies the truth that Malaysia is suffering from a wisdom deficit.

If we review the cultural cohesion, the inter-religious acceptance among people of different faiths and the ethnic harmony that prevailed across the land in Malaya and in the early years of Malaysia, we can see the wisdom that flourished in the land.

But today, as we stagnate in a political quagmire, the signs are all over that racism and bigotry have spread, with many people finding it hard to coexist with wisdom.

At every turn, we come across far too many issues and concerns that speak volumes about our lack of wisdom.

What happened? How did we lose all that wisdom that had taken root in the past? Who is to blame?

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Today, suspicion over what one community has over another seems to be the fulcrum on which we make policy decisions.

Today, we see desperate political plotting and counter-plotting.

Today, the wisdom that was once the hallmark of our country fades, we see the socioeconomic effects – a fast-growing lower-income group, the fleeing of foreign investments, and more politicians getting involved in business through proxies.

 ‘Mahathir miracle’ now in ruins

The agenda to make our society more progressive, the agenda to safeguard Islam, the agenda to privatise Malaysia for productivity, the agenda to rein in the judiciary and legislature and place them at the beck and call of the executive – all this has eroded the wisdom the country had.

Today, we see more business leaders pretending that business and politics are poles apart. But how many prominent business leaders are not cosying up to politicians? How many prominent business leaders are not chasing after honorifics?

Universities were crippled with an act of Parliament that stifled intellectual progress. And so, wisdom was sacrificed as students now study only to pass exams.

Even those appointed to lead such institutions are suffering from the fear of being on the wrong side of the law and losing promotions, incomes, retirement benefits and perks.

And so, wisdom is fast fading in a country once filled with great hope and promise of becoming a beacon in the region.

Is this karma, fate? Is it the will of God? Or is it our own doing?

Without wisdom, any nation over time will be overrun by failure in four aspects of civilisation: politics, the economy, social bonds and the environment.

To deny that politics is the thread that binds the economy, society and the environment in our world would be to bury our heads in the sand like the ostrich.

We need to come together to tackle the political rot that is now surfacing. Thanks to Covid, the truth is fast emerging. Will we regain our centuries-old wisdom and triumph once more?

Did Malaysia embolden Myanmar?

As the junta stomps over democracy in Myanmar, the world takes notice and lends its united voice of strong disapproval.

In Malaysia last February, we witnessed how a democratically elected government had the rug pulled from under its feet, paving the way for an unelected pool of politicians to take over.

Is there any difference between what happened in Malaysia and what has unfolded in Myanmar?

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The only difference is that in Malaysia, it was the politicians who staged the coup. Whereas in Myanmar, it was the military that grabbed power.

So, has a precedent now been set? Will more nations take the cue and follow suit in the months ahead?

As the coronavirus pandemic wreaks more havoc around the world, would it provide a conducive climate for undemocratic governments to shelter behind emergency rulings?

Covid restrictions punish Malaysians severely

The government’s recent announcement that the partial lockdown would be extended by two weeks to 18 February heightened public anxiety and frustration.  

While movement restrictions are aimed at reducing the daily four-figure number of new Covid cases, the public are now questioning these restrictions more critically.

While many other countries have also implemented various movement restrictions, there is a stark difference though. Their governments are going all out to use their prudently saved financial reserves to ease the difficulties of the people and their businesses. They are dishing out rental subsidies and cost-of-living allowances quickly to ease the people’s financial burden and their emotional duress arising from the sudden lack of mobility.

The same cannot be said for Malaysia. We have imposed a 10km travel limit while morning and night markets thrive with crowds. Schools are open, and buses and vans transport loads of pupils, often without physical distancing. Others are commuting in trains with namesake physical distancing.

All we hear is that the emergency ordinance that the Perikatan Nasional government secured will be used to bring up more stringent measures restrictions, with severe punishments for violators.

Whatever financial relief that the authorities promised and have provided is not going down well with the people and the business community. People are still crying out for help while others complain about the delivery of the promises made.

Hotels have turned to roadside hawking with one well-known operator even driven to sell food at RM3 per packet out of sheer desperation.

The partial lockdown and the many restrictions, along with the emergency ordinance, have not reduced the daily Covid cases drastically.

We now have 260,000 Covid infections (albeit over 200,000 have recovered) with almost a thousand dead. Meanwhile, frontline health staff and police have become even more vulnerable.

Measures taken or announced to bring relief to the economy have not reached everyone affected or they may not be enough.

The repeated extensions of the partial lockdowns have put untold psychological stress on the people apart from the financial nightmare they are already enduring.  

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How long more will the people be able to stomach these restrictions is open to debate.

Stop going after whistleblowers, critics

Meanwhile, attention has turned to whistleblowers and critics.

Several quarters are hounding former attorney general Tommy Thomas in the wake of his new book Justice in the Wilderness.

As affected individuals and bodies unleash their attacks ranging from letters of demand, compensation demands, police reports and threats of legal action against Thomas, we cannot help wondering what happened to the call to uphold the rule of law.

Many people will now wonder whether our democracy is still well.

Beneath all these actions against Thomas in response to what he wrote perhaps lies a deep-rooted disease – the inability to face up to exposes of alleged wrongdoings.

Here is a man that the nation – and to a large extent the international legal fraternity – praised with great hope when he was appointed as attorney general. His appointment came at a crucial time when the claws of corruption and abuse of power were gripping the nation.  

For putting ink to paper on what he saw during his work, Thomas is now subjected to a mind-boggling litany of objections and condemnations.  

Are we so incapable of accepting criticism? Has what Thomas captured in his book proven to be grossly unjustified, intentionally injurious or deliberately manipulated for ulterior self-interest or motive?

Some even say without shame that Thomas should not have broken his oath of office. But what is an oath of office if you have to run away from speaking truths?

The public is not wrong in wanting to know the whole truth. The first print was sold out even before the launch date, and many more are waiting to receive their paid copy of the book.

After all, the real stakeholders of nationhood are the people. Those in power are mere servants in building a nation of honour and integrity, free from corrupt practices.

So, let’s show the world that we do not persecute whistleblowers but instead thrive on allowing due process and justice to be dispensed without fear or favour.

If Thomas’ claims are proven true, not only must heads roll, they must be removed decisively.  

Perhaps it is not wrong to say that the former attorney general has given this nation, long stuck in the gorges of corruption, a path to redemption.

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