Three years on from that tahfiz fire in Keramat, a person’s finally been found guilty of murder. But is it justice enough for the 23 people who lost their lives in the pre-dawn blaze?

In other news, Sabahans head to the polls on Sept 26, an MP thinks the gomen should absorb workers’ EPF contributions, Kedah imposes stricter Covid-19 measures, and a glovemaker becomes Malaysia’s fifth billionaire!

Crime and punishment

Mutation situation

It remains one of Malaysia’s worst cases of arson. And on Monday, three years after the episode, the person responsible for the deaths of 21 students and two teachers in a blaze at a tahfiz in Kampung Datuk Keramat in Kuala Lumpur was found guilty of murder.

 

The incident, if you recall, was one of the most horrific in recent memory, not just due to the high body count but the tender age of the arsonist – a teen of just 16 at the time.

Worse still, evidence revealed that all those who perished in the Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah blaze had tried to escape but were unable to, having been trapped ‘cos of grilled windows and a lack of exits.

 

Initially, as many as seven youths were investigated over the 2017 incident and the feeling, at least at first, was that the fire had been started merely to get back at the students following a quarrel. However, as the probe continued, it became clear two of the youths had intended to do more than just burn down the school. They’d wanted to kill.

 

On Jan 28 this year, though, after more than one-and-a-half years of proceedings that saw 71 witnesses called to testify, the court decided there appeared to be a case against only one of the accused and so acquitted the other. 

Due to Child Act restrictions, we never got to know the names of the two accused. However, thanks to the same law, the remaining accused, now 19, was spared the gallows (the Child Act disallows the death sentence to be handed out if the convicted person is a juvenile when committing the crime).

Hence, KL High Court judge Azman Abdullah sentenced the accused to imprisonment at the pleasure of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. What this means is that the law allows for the bugger to be detained for as long as the Agong deems fit.

The case, however, is not completely over. It was reported last year that the families of at least seven of the kids and a warden who died, along with 10 surviving students, have filed a suit against the tahfiz centre’s operators and the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council (MAIWP).

Among the things sought by the plaintiffs was a declaration that the operators and MAIWP had been negligent in failing to ensure there were lighted exits and enough fire extinguishers in the school. 

 

The suit created a some buzz when it was reported due to the fact negligence was one of the first things alleged back in 2017 when the fire occurred, what with the Fire Department going on record to state that at least half of the country’s tahfiz centres were unsafe.


Regrettably, as far as we can tell, there’s been no progress to the case thus far.

Speaking in the aftermath of the case’s decision yesterday, one mother who lost two of her children said she’d long forgiven the guilty youth. Still, the fact remains that regardless of the punishment the accused’s been handed or the forgiveness he’s received, absolutely nothing will bring back the innocent lives tragically lost on that morning on Sept 14, 2017.

Mari mengundi

It’s all systems go for the Sabah state election, with nominations scheduled for Sept 12 and Sept 26 set for polling.

There’d been much debate as to whether the Election Commission would actually go ahead in fixing dates for the polls what with a legal challenge by former chief minister Musa Aman against the dissolution of the state assembly still before the courts.

Notwithstanding, the Commission’s previously-ponytailed deputy boss Dr Azmi Sharom says as no instructions were received about the judicial review, the EC was left with no choice but to announce the polling date.

Still, this does not necessarily mean the election – that is set to affect many as 1.12 million voters – will take place.

Sabah Barisan Nasional strongman Musa and 32 other Sabah assemblymen are seeking a legal declaration that Governor Juhar Mahiruddin was not properly advised over the matter. They claim that on July 30, Musa had the numbers to form the new Sabah government. Unfortunately, his bid to return to the top got dumped on when Warisan boss and interim Sabah CM Shafie Apdal advised Governor Juhar to dissolve the state assembly.

The court has said it will need till Friday to consider whether there is a case and, in fact, whether it has the power to decide on one. However, you’d really wanna pay close attention here ‘cos any decision in favour of Mighty Musa and friends on Aug 21 could lead to a stay/injunction on the dissolution

A stay being declined would mean that the election proceeds as scheduled. However, if an injunction is granted, you can expect all hell to break loose as Musa would certainly move quickly to get the dissolution nullified.

By the way, the coming election, if it proceeds, is set to feature 13 new state seats, bringing the total number to 73.

The last election in 2018, saw a pretty even split, with the Musa-led Sabah BN and allies just nudging ahead, initially, of Shafie’s Warisan and chums. However, this detailed analysis suggests that results this time, at least as far the new seats are concerned, could be way more in BN’s favour than previously.

Even so, like we’ve noted many times before, in Sabah, the land of a million frogs, nothing is quite as it seems.

A fistful of ringgit

An Opposition MP has called on the government to absorb workers’ Employees Provident Fund (EPF) contributions to deal with the fallout from Covid-19 and though, at first glance, that suggestion may seem too stupid for words, perhaps it isn’t totally insane.

First things first, it’s pretty plain to see that the government has hutang melilit pinggang right now, so the last thing it can afford to do is pay folks’ EPF contributions. Still, reading between the lines (ahem) it kinda seems the MP who made the suggestion – DAP’s Charles Santiago – wasn’t talking about the gomen helping out Malaysians who can afford very fine houses and two cars in the yard, but the low-income B40 group. Also, Charlie’s main bone of contention appears to be the i-Lestari scheme, which he claims could result in bigger future problems.

To refresh your memory,  i-Lestari programme allows EPF contributors aged 55 and below to withdraw between RM50 and RM500 a month for 12 months until March 31 next year. The plan, on the surface, appears to be aimed at helping folks who’ve been screwed over by the pandemic get back on their feet. Unfortunately, as the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) noted way back in March, the scheme could end up seriously depleting workers’ savings.

 

While it’s true that for many, a few thousand ringgit withdrawal over a year may not do much damage to savings. But consider for a moment that many of the folks cashing out via i-Lestari are likely, 1) mainly from the B40 group; and 2) sparing very little thought for the future.

 

On the one hand, one argument to consider in the current depressing economic state is that low-income households need their cash now, not when they retire. Still, should the government have introduced such a scheme that kinda guarantees a doomed future?

 

We have no idea what the answers are or should be, unfortunately. So we thought we’d just present some of the arguments here and let you decide on what’s what, and whether or not Charlie Santiago is a loon.

 

Oh, also on the subject of cash, despite former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s best efforts, the gomen’s Supply (Reallocation of Appropriated Expenditure) Bill 2020 got passed yesterday in the Dewan Rakyat by a wafer-thin 111 votes – exactly half the number of MPs. 

 

Anwar Ibrahim has made a big deal of this and questioned how the Perikatan Nasional government can, in fact, stay in power with so little support. It’s a question many have asked many times.

 

What is significant though is that the government is seeking an additional RM7.18 billion in funds via the Supply Bill to, get this, restructure finances to accommodate several new ministries that got created when Perikatan took Putrajaya.

 

Yup, Malaysia is RM1.2 trillion in debt, so we have to be careful how much we spend on helping the poor. BUT we can find RM7-plus billion to pay for ministries we maybe didn’t really need in the first place (and which were probably created as part of the great Muhyiddin Yassin Political Rewards Scheme). Figure that one out!

Stricter measures in Kedah & other odds and ends

The Covid-19 daily infection rate dropped a wee bit on Monday. Unfortunately, seven of the 12 new cases recorded have been linked to the Tawar cluster, making it now the second-largest active cluster in the country with 46 cases in total.

In response to the worrying climb in cases, Kedah, where the cluster originated, is introducing stricter measures in a number of localities in the state.

According to Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, among the steps being taken to stem the tide is calling off social events, government programmes and kenduris, and cancelling upcoming state-level Merdeka Day celebrations. Additionally, dine-in services are also being restricted in certain areas.

For the record, the Tawar cluster –  linked to a funeral on July 31 and Aug 1 – is one of three clusters in Kedah. The others are Muda, Sala and of course, Sivagangga.

In other news, infectious disease experts from across the causeway have disputed Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah’s claim the D614G coronavirus strain is 10-times more contagious than other variants. (Side note: Noor Hisham recently received a Tan Sri title. Who wants to bet he’ll get a Tun-ship when he retires?)

These experts claim the so-called new mutation has been circulating in Singapore since February and there’s “no real scientific data” to make the claim it’s more transmissible, let alone by tenfold. The dudes further contend that the mutation will have no impact on vaccine efficacy.

Could they be right? We certainly hope so. Still, we guess Noor Hisham’s reminder to stay vigilant holds, regardless of how infectious this new strain may or may not be.

 

Anyways, here’re some other Covid and non-Covid-related highlights from Monday:

  • There’re, currently, 211 active coronavirus cases in 23 clusters in Malaysia. 
  • Thailand is probing how a Malaysian tested positive for the coronavirus upon returning to KL from Bangkok. The man arrived here on Aug 5 and tested negative. However, a follow-up test 10 days later returned a positive result. Thailand has had no local transmissions for 80 days now. 
  • While the health crisis has made many people poor, it’s also, it seems, made people like entrepreneur Wong Teek Son filthy stinking rich. Wong, the co-founder of glovemaker Riverstone, is reportedly worth US$1.2 billion (RM5 billion) thanks to the pandemic. He is now Malaysia’s fifth billionaire
  • Najib Razak and honeybun Rosmah Mansor were both in court on Monday for their respective criminal trials. Not a lot happened in the Jibster’s graft trial, what with Mr Super Rings needing to rush to Parliament to vote on the gomen’s Supply Bill (see above), Rosie’s trial was more interesting
  • Elsewhere, in another court, ex-Felda boss Mohd Isa Abdul Samad told the High Court that a former aide decided to implicate him after being harassed by a ghost in a haunted cell. We kid you not. 
  • Penang says it’ll cooperate with investigations into a proposed resort project on Pulau Jerejak, the former leper and penal colony off Penang. Questions about the project were first raised by Gerakan in 2016. 
  • Meanwhile, newly crowned Bersatu Youth chief Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal has defended his actions caught in video, in which he’s seen promising to leverage his government and position to issue support letters in exchange for votes in the recent party polls. The deputy youth and sports minister claims the promises were made with the intention of helping youths, especially those in rural areas. Seriously, dude?

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars, The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”

- Fyodor Dostoevsky -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has defiantly claimed in a new video that there won’t be fresh elections in the country “until you kill me”! Careful there, Alex.
     
  • Japan’s economy has taken a beating, with the country’s GDP shrinking to a record 7.8% between April and June, marking an annual rate of decline of 27.8%, the worst it’s been in forty years.
     
  • Over 10,000 people protested in Thailand on Sunday, in what is the country’s largest anti-government rally for six years. Shockingly – for our northern neighbours at least – some protesters have called for a reform to the country’s monarchy, something which would’ve been unthinkable during the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s reign. 
     
  • Whistleblower Edward Snowden is reported to have made a whole load of moolah, US$1.2 million to be exact, in speaking fees since leaking confidential United States government material and going into exile. That’s a pretty cushy exile, innit? This on top of the news The Donald is considering pardoning the guy.
     
  • New Zealand is set to postpone its general elections by a month, following a spike in new Covid-19 cases in Auckland. Nine new cases were confirmed on Monday, bringing the number of total active cases to 58.
     
  • Internazionale of Italy has set up a Europa League final date with Sevilla, after hammering Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0 in last night’s semi-finals. The Italians will take on the Spanish team, which beat Manchester United, at 3am on Saturday. 

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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