Malaysia’s government has again been accused of double standards in enforcing Covid-19 curbs, after an event it organised flouted safety protocols but attracted only a fine of 1,000 ringgit ($238).
The four-day event at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre was launched by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on December 9 and held to mark his government’s achievements in its first 100 days.
According to the Chief Secretary to the government Zuki Ali, over 100,000 people have thronged the gathering.
Critics from across the political divide as well as civil society compared the penalty with the fines of up to 20,000 ringgit levied during last month’s Melaka state polls where physical campaigning was barred, and the millions imposed on illegal parties in the capital.
“Is pushing up the number of Covid-19 cases part of the KPI [key performance index] for the next 100 days?” said Malaysian Medical Association president Koh Kar Chai.
Opposition stalwart Lim Kit Siang also pilloried the “chicken-feed” fine which he said “highlights the total lack of seriousness” of the government in fighting the pandemic.
Infection levels have generally stayed above 4,000 cases daily for the past seven months. On December 12, new cases dipped to 3,490, the first time they have fallen under 4,000 since May.
“And yet, Ismail Sabri could give a score of 90 per cent for the Cabinet’s 100-day performance, making Malaysia the new target of world jokes and humiliation,” said Lim, who is a member of Parliament for Iskandar Puteri.
Health minister Khairy Jamaluddin has criticised the unit in the Prime Minister’s Department that organised the event, noting the “congested situation, lack of physical distancing and poor crowd control increased the risk of Covid-19 spreading”.
“The event . . . was tarnished by the organiser’s failure to ensure SOP [standard operations procedures] adherence. As the government, we should be examples of best practices,” Khairy said, referring to standard operating procedures.
Nevertheless, he pointed out in a statement on December 10 that his ministry no longer had the power to issue fines exceeding 1,000 ringgit each. This was due to the revocation of emergency ordinances in Parliament just the day before the event.
The state of emergency was imposed from January to August by former premier Muhyiddin Yassin, under whom Ismail Sabri served as a senior minister and then deputy prime minister.
However, police had raided a Kuala Lumpur nightclub on the night of December 9 and issued a total of 245,000 ringgit in fines, including a 25,000 ringgit fine on the owner of the premises.
In a live appearance on national television on the night of December 12 to address the growing controversy, Khairy announced plans to increase maximum fines under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act to 10,000 ringgit for individuals, and two million ringgit for organisations.
“Our [government’s] credibility has been eroded. I’m aware the public is angry . . . we apologise for what happened and the government will learn. Don’t let our mistake cause you to stop observing SOPs,” Khairy said.
An aide to the health minister responded to queries on that penalty, saying “enforcement action and compounds issued are by the police. You may check with them”.
THE STRAITS TIMES (SINGAPORE)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK