Major cracks are beginning to show within the opposition while Perikatan Nasional scores more wins on the budget front. There may be time for Anwar Ibrahim and co. to strategise, of course, but at what cost?

Elsewhere in today's newsletter, Mads Mohamad hits back at a former protégé; Finance Minister Zaf assures Penang that Putrajaya's not out for revenge; and we get clued in on how that much-needed, still-to-be-approved Covid-19 vaccine is gonna be stored.

The big Budget headache

Unconvincing majorities

The budget debates proceeded to the committee stage yesterday, and once again it was Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government which recorded significant wins.

Before we get into what happened in Parliament though, here’re a little explainer: 

The committee stage in the Dewan Rakyat, which follows the second reading of a Bill, is when each clause in a proposed law is scrutinised and dealt with in detail. 

In the case of Budget 2021 — nama sebenar: Supply Bill (Budget) 2021 — provisions are looked at in stages, ministry by ministry. A vote is taken after every round of debates. 

In a nutshell, this means despite last Thursday’s vote bungle by the opposition during the first vote or policy stage, MooMoo and co. are still not safe and could find themselves “voted out”.

Anyhoo, two ministerial allocations (for the Finance Ministry and PM’s Department) were debated on at the committee stage yesterday, and a bloc vote called at the end of each session. The result? Perikatan Nasional edged past the opposition — by 105 votes to 95 (PM’s Department) and 107 votes to 95 (Finance Ministry) — both times.

FYI, there are currently 220 MPs in the august House. However, there were notable absentees on both sides of the aisle yesterday including Umno’s twin terrors Najib Razak and Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as well as DAP’s Chow Kon Yeow. Yet, if you see from the numbers of the bloc votes, Moo’s side could’ve easily been defeated had the whole opposition team bothered to show up! 

But what’s got tongues really wagging is that all eight reps from Parti Warisan Sabah, a major Pakatan Harapan ally that up until recently, ruled Sabah, were conspicuously missing from the Dewan. 

Their reason? They intended to “send a signal”. Tl;dr – Warisan’s sick and tired of persistent Pakatan infighting (aren’t we all), and are pissed with Parliamentary opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim over last week’s vote blunder. They are also seeking new opposition leadership. In other words, get lost Anwar! 

Warisan reps have said they’ll continue to send out smoke signals by sitting out the bloc votes until an unspecified time. 

How long they plan to duduk rumah dan bantah is anyone’s guess. But consider this: The opposition, Warisan included, had loudly lambasted PN’s money plan as being inadequate for the rakyat soon after it was tabled. Yet now when it’s time to scrutinise allocations and make sure the people are taken care of, these jokers have decided sitting out debates and votes is the best way forward. How bloody selfish and self-serving is that?! Also, what good would that f*&%ing do?!?!

If they’d felt so strongly against Anwar’s gambit, maybe they should’ve stood together with the 13 MPs from Amanah and Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Pejuang in calling for bloc vote on day #1.

What’s also interesting about PN’s two-vote win is that despite recently claiming he has support to take over as PM, the votes in Anwar’s corner on Monday suggest his majority is anything but “strong, formidable and convincing“. 

Here’s the bottom line though: what’s important is not whether Anwar can be PM or if opposition folks are annoyed with him. What’s at stake here is Budget 2021, and the allocations meant to see Malaysian people through next year. 

It’s sad that we have to spell it out for em, but our reps should be going to Parliament to do their jobs and not make the next few weeks about control, power and popularity contest. There’re a great number of things right with Moo and co’s fiscal plan, but there are major flaws – that hefty allocation for the Special Affairs Department a.k.a. Jasa among them – that should be debated and voted on. 

PS – Umno vet Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah also sat out of the bloc votes. He’ll continue to not take part in budget debates until and unless MooMoo’s support is tested through a confidence vote. It’s left to be seen, of course, if the Gua Musang MP shows up on Dec 15 when the Budget 2021 is voted on for a final time in the lower house before it proceeds to the Dewan Negara.

How now brown cow?

So what happens now that PN’s won the first two rounds in the committee stage? 

 

Well, the good news for the A-Team (that’s Anwar and co.) is that despite the Finance Ministry and PM’s Department allocations getting approved, there’ll be other opportunities for the opposition to gain ground.

 

You can view the full list of who’s up between today and Dec 15 here. However, in the event you’re pressed for time, here’s a super brief breakdown of which ministries are due to have their budgets scrutinised this week:

  • Dec 1
    • Foreign                  
    • National Unity            
    • Plantation Industries and Commodities
  • Dec 2
    • Agriculture and Food Industries
    • Rural Development   
    • Energy and Natural Resources
  • Dec 3
    • International Trade and Industry
    • Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs
    • Entrepreneurship Development and Cooperatives

In a nutshell, the opposition will get nine more opportunities to vote down the budget before the week is through. What it also means is that you’ll be treated to plenty of arguments about how the gomen isn’t planning to splash its cash prudently.

 

Yesterday, for example, the debates centred on an increase in the PM’s Department allocation for contract staff emoluments and salaries of special envoys to foreign countries. The opposition contends that such expenditure is unwarranted at this time when people are suffering. And importantly too, why the hell do we need envoys now when international borders are currently closed?!

 

Yet, as already noted, the Department’s RM11.7 billion allotment, like the Finance Ministry’s RM21 billion allocation, got greenlit during divisional or bloc voting.

 

Will today present different scenarios? Perhaps. But with less moolah to be debated about, much less controversial allotments, and Warisan MPs still probably missing in action (see above), the most likely outcome is that by the time the day is done, PN might’ve upped its score of 2 votes to nil to 5-0.

 

An interesting point to note is the opposition reps are not only running around like headless chickens over bloc voting, but they also don’t even have a shadow budget prepared for the actual debates.

If you’re blur sotong, let us explain. Shadow budgets are alternative fiscal plans drafted by the shadow cabinet/opposition to counter the real federal gomen budget. FYI, apart from PKR, Pakatan doesn’t even have a shadow cabinet.

 

In the past, Pakatan (whether P. Rakyat or P. Harapan) has always had shadow budgets formalised before beginning debates in the Dewan. This time though, as this piece points out, there is none! And it looks to be all ‘cos of one man’s fixation on winning the PM’s gilded toilet seat and his frenemies’ obsession with stopping him.

Cold as ice

Even though there may still be a tonne of questions surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine developed by companies like Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech, our gomen has assured us that at least as far as storage of the vaccine goes, there’s no reason to worry.

 

The Pfizer-BionNTech vaccine, if you recall, must be kept at temperatures of -70°C, which is why there’s been mucho concern by peeps here that not enough low temp facilities exist for storage. After all, no point getting the vaccine if we have nowhere to keep em.

 

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has a shelf life of six months when stored at sub-zero temperatures, but that’s reduced to just five days at normal fridge temperature of 2 to 8°C.

 

Malaysia became the first Southeast Asian country to sign a vaccine deal with Pfizer and co. The company has boasted 95% effectiveness during trials, but our region’s tropical heat and lack of suitable storage and handling facilities have raised concern.

 

Our friend Science, Technology And Innovation Minister Khairy ‘The Janggut’ Jamaluddin, however, has assured us that Malaysian research institutions and unis already possess ultra-low temp freezers (Huzzah!). Bonus point – seems Pfizer has also agreed to handle the shipment of the drug.

 

For the mo, the deal between Malaysia and the pharma giant is for 12.8 million doses of the vaccine, KJ has said. However, the whole lot won’t be delivered at one go, so it’s possible to plan storage based on the agreed-upon delivery schedules. Pfizer will reportedly deliver the first one mil doses in the first quarter of next year.

 

Now, of course, this is welcome news, and Moo’s gomen has said it will priorities frontliners, senior citizens, and those with non-communicable diseases, such as heart diseases and diabetes. Nevertheless, don’t forget, Malaysia’s deal for the vaccine hinges on two big things: registration with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and approval for use by the Health Ministry’s National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA). 

 

In short, keep your fingers well crossed because while we may have the freezers, we’re still some way off from getting that Covid cure!

 

Vaccine hopes aside, Malaysia’s Covid-19 numbers were in excess of a thousand (1,212 to be exact) for the fourth day in a row on Monday. Selangor, once more, registered the highest number of infections (402), with construction sites and factory clusters still contributing to a rise in cases overall. 

 

The silver lining though is despite the still-high numbers and 3 more fatalities, 2,112 recoveries yesterday caused the number of active cases to decrease by almost a thousand to 10,578.

 

Yes, we know, the numbers are still high. But with things being as they are, we’ll take any win we can, thank you very much.

 

Here, anyway, are a few more coronavirus-related highlights from yesterday:

  • The enhanced movement control order (EMCO) imposed on Top Glove Bhd’s worker dorms in Klang has been extended until Dec 14. 

    To date, a total of 3,406 Covid-19 positive cases have been linked to workers in Top Glove factories, while a whopping total of 4,278 cases have been recorded within the Teratai cluster, which originated from the dorms.
     
  • The Health Ministry has rejected a proposal by factories to allow non-positive, quarantined employees to continue to work in areas where they won’t come into contact with others. Health authorities have explained this is ’cos while these workers may not appear to be symptomatic, they may be still be infected. 
     
  • The rule on the mandatory screening of migrant workers comes into effect today with Putrajaya instructing employers to prepare quarantine centres for workers who test positive. Employers are also required to provide food and transportation for workers.
     
  • According to the gomen, MySejahtera is merely a contact-tracing app to curb the spread of Covid and is not being used to spy on people. What’s gonna be done with all that data after we’re done with this pandemic, though?

Grumpy old men and other odds and ends

Former PM Mads Mohamad has hit back at protégé-turned-nemesis Azmin Ali over the latter’s claims the nonagenarian was behind the formation of Perikatan Nasional. 

 

The old man contends that if it is, in fact, true PN was his idea, he’d have stayed on as PM, instead of resigning and rejecting the new coalition. With Maddey, who’s to say if he is telling the truth or not?

 

The PM4/7 also laid into Azmin’s claims of being unambitious, alleging that it’s quite clear to everyone that the former PKR deputy president wants to become premier and is sitting pretty now as MooMoo’s de facto deputy.

 

For the record, Min could still see himself booted out as Moo’s favoured No. 2 what with Umno hovering and demanding the deputy PM’s post be handed to the party.

 

Political soap operas aside, here’re a few other things that made the headlines on Monday:

  • Despite the Bugaya and Gerik by-elections being set for Jan 16, there’s a possibility the gomen may call for more emergency declarations if Covid cases in the respective areas increase. 
     
  • A similar move could be considered for Sarawak when the time comes for elections to be called in the state. The Sarawak constitution states an election must be called within 60 days of the legislative assembly being dissolved. The assembly dissolves automatically on June 7, 2021. 
     
  • Money Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz has maintained that Putrajaya’s unwillingness to grant a loan guarantee to Penang for the state’s LRT project has nothing to do with revenge and is simply based on Bank Negara’s advice.

    Zaf also added the gomen hasn’t yet withdrawn the guarantee and that further discussions will be held with the Economic Planning Unit.
     
  • A British pathologist told an inquest on Monday that deceased Irish-French teenager Nora Anne Quorin could have been sexually assaulted. The decomposition of the teen’s body, however, prevented the expert from being able to determine this with certainty. 
     
  • Gardenia is raising the prices of several products from today. Thankfully, while certain flavoured products are going up, it doesn’t look like the prices of Malaysia’s once-coveted bread variants are affected.

“Politics is the art of making your selfish desires seem like the national interest.”

- Thomas Sowell -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Pharma firm Moderna Inc. is rushing to get European and US emergency authorisations for its coronavirus vaccine, noting that late-stage trials show the drug to be 94.1% effective at preventing Covid and 100% effective in stopping severe cases of the disease.
     
  • Meanwhile, official tallies show that at least 1.4 million people have succumbed to Covid-19 since the disease emerged in China last December. The worldwide infection rate, on the hand, stands at over 63 million.
     
  • Biggest Loser President Donald Trump is still maintaining he won the recent US Election and that it’s only fraud that’s preventing him from a second term in office. Naturally, no evidence was provided to back his claims.
     
  • Argentine police have initiated a probe into the death of Diego Maradona with the football legend’s doctor a prime suspect. Documents and cell phones have since been seized from the doc, Leopoldo Luque.

    Maradona reportedly died from a heart attack last week following surgery weeks earlier to relieve swelling in his brain. Luque was his neurosurgeon.
     
  • Australia has slammed China over a fake pic posted on Twitter that depicted an Aussie soldier killing an Afghan child. The image was shared via Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s verified Twitter account.

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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