Covid-19 mayn't be able to distinguish between government joes and us ordinary joes, but that ain't stopping Putrajaya from relaxing quarantine rules for our ministers.

Elsewhere in today's newsletter, we break the daily death record again; Malaysia's poor are hit hard by the pandemic; and our favourite h̶a̶m̶b̶u̶r̶g̶l̶a̶r̶ bandit returns to the spotlight.

Same same but different

Different strokes

If there’s one thing that’s been made abundantly clear in Malaysia’s fight against Covid-19, it’s that we aren’t all equal before the law, whatever n̶o̶t̶ ̶o̶u̶r̶ ̶A̶b̶a̶h̶ PM Muhyiddin Yassin says.

From attending Parliament in defiance of quarantine and “bumping into” friends when on a morning stroll to special prayer sesh for one, the rules never seemed to apply to the upper echelons of government.

And now, even as us plebs are threatened with heftier fines and jail-terms for violating SOPs, we’re slapped in the face with more seemingly double standards.

Signed by Air Suam Minister Dr Adham Baba, a new order has reduced the quarantine requirement for ministers returning from abroad to – get this – three freaking days! In case you’ve forgotten (since most of us regular folks haven’t had the chance to makan angin in a while), the quarantine period for us is 10 days.

We don’t need to point out how ridiculous and dangerous this is, frankly ‘cos the virus doesn’t care if you’re an eagle or sparrow (ask Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin). 

But more importantly, the rule spits in the faces of everyday Malaysians who’ve been warned, fined and threatened for over a year now in the gomen’s so-called efforts against Covid. 

The quarantine exemption, BT-Dubs, comes into effect today till Aug 1, the entirety of the emergency period.

This would mean Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who’s currently on a jaunt to the UAE, will not have to duduk rumah for long. What’s not clear is whether the order applies to PM Moo who returned from Indonesia on Friday.

We wonder why Adham came up with this new order. Was it to let those who’d gone on unnecessary overseas trips  get out early – or is this a prelude to more ministers (and their wives?) rejoining the jet set?

We’re looking forward to hearing Moo’s excuse for this if any’s even forthcoming. He’s talked a good game of being one with the people, but this latest move makes it crystal his gomen’s only prihatin about its own needs. 

Is it any wonder then that our Covid sitch is getting worse and worse?

Fear the reaper

Just a week after breaking our daily death tally record, Malaysia’s surpassed that again, this time recording 24 Covid-19 fatalities in a single day.

And if you’re in the market for bad news, here’s more — in just six weeks, we’ve gone from 471 deaths (on Dec 31) to 896 yesterday. That’s nearly double! FYI, with 3,100 new cases recorded yesterday, our active cases are now 51,977.

More distressing is the revelation that the number of Covid-positive patients dying before they get to hospital has risen, including younger folks.

A massive strain on our healthcare system, you’ll recall, caused the Health Ministry to allow folks with zero/mild symptoms to chill at home instead of getting admitted.

The Ministry’s since set up a bunch of assessment centres (CAC) to screen folk and determine if a patient should be hospitalised, quarantined, or sent home. Among the latest and largest CACs is Malawati Stadium in Shah Alam. 

While the move’s eased the load on hospitals, it also means docs aren’t around if/when symptoms worsen.

The question is, with all the double standards on parade (see above) and nonsensical, confusing SOPs, is there much hope in curbing the spread of the virus in the long term?

Coincidentally, the British Medical Journal’s got a new damning article out that takes the gomens of the world to task for the enormous international death toll from Covid-19 – now above two million and rising.

Calling it “social murder”, BMJ’s exec editor Kamran Abbasi takes no prisoners as he blames the situation on negligence, bad calls, policy failures and general administrative stupidity.

Hear that, Putrajaya?

Sorry state of affairs

Regrettably, on top of rules being applied unequally, the health crisis is disproportionately affecting some more than others.

In terms of work, not only did joblessness rise 4.8% in the last quarter of 2020, but when people did manage to secure jobs, they ended up working fewer hours. In numbers, this means about 772,900 folks were out of work towards the end of the year, while about half a million people worked less than 30 hours a week, which, for many, meant lower income.

If you think that’s bad, a Unicef survey of 500 households in KL found unemployment had increased by 7% in September to 15% in December, with one in three adults surveyed found to be jobless.

Distressingly, Malaysia’s poor have gotten poorer ‘cos of Covid. The report found that as MCO 2.0 kicked off, many of these families were at breaking point, with kids, the disabled and folks with chronic illnesses discovered to be worst off.

To the gomen’s credit, PM Moo’s administration has, over the last year, introduced several initiatives aimed at taking care of those in need. 

Sadly, there’s been a lack of focus on job creation. While some schemes are good, many have been poorly targeted (remember the whole bags of rice for the poor in the federal territories but nothing for the rest of Malaysia announcement?) and poorly implemented.

Take the free laptop scheme for schoolchildren, for example. When it was announced during the tabling of Budget 2021, the impression given was that the 150,000 laptops would be handed out under the Cerdik plan to kids in need. In a truly what-the-fork moment, it turned out the computers were loans, not gifts. 

Why wasn’t this made clear before? Didn’t the gomen know? Also, as one MP pointed out, what happens to damaged or faulty computers? Will these kids, many from poor families, have to cough up cash to repair and/or replace the devices?

All the money in the world

How we’ve missed him! Everyone’s favourite fugitive financier Jho Low’s back in the spotlight. 

According to a former 1MDB boss, the pirate’s the guy who’s been calling all the shots at the sovereign wealth fund.

Taking the stand in ex-premier Najib Razak’s RM2.28 billion corruption trial, former CEO Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman told the High Court about how Jho Boy dispatched email instructions and everyone at 1MDB abided ‘cos that was the culture at the company. 

Although there were no express threats of sacking, Hazem claimed the deal was: follow or quit.

There’s a long way to go still in the present trial with main man Jibby a long way away from taking the stand. Even so, it’s worth noting that the claims by Hazem – a prosecution witness – appear to be in line with Jib’s repeated cries that Low’s the mastermind behind the whole 1MDB shebang.

J-Low aside, prosecutors are set on bringing the financier’s merry men  –including Tan Kim Loong a.k.a. Fat Eric — to trial for RM67.9 million in unpaid taxes.

Fat Eric — we swear we didn’t come up with the name! — has been on the MACC’s wanted list for over two years now. Unfortunately, while his last known address is a place in Kepong, it seems authorities have not had any luck tracking him down.

Meanwhile, two more Low’s buddies are also on the taxman’s hunt list.

In still more 1MDB news, the US Department of Justice’s served a warrant on a British law firm for the return of US$330 million.

How the firm, Clyde & Co., came to possess the funds is rather complicated. All you need to know is that the chunk of change sought is believed to be part of a complex fraud involving the siphoning of moolah to pay bribes, finance Hollywood flicks, buy superyachts and set up dodgy joint venture entities.

This and that

A bit more made the news yesterday: 

  • Abdul Latif Abdul Rahim was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) in exchange for testifying against his own brother Umno’s Baling MP and ex-Tabung Haji chair Abdul Azeez.

    Abdul Latif was charged with abetting brother dearest with accepting bribes.
     
  • Anwar Ibrahim wants the Federal Court to decide on several questions concerning his suit against PM Moo for advising the Agong to declare an emergency.

    Chief among opposition leader’s queries is whether the courts can decide on the validity of the PM’s advice to the King.
     
  • Major food companies in the US, including General Mills and Hershey, are shunning FGV Holdings and Sime Darby Plantations following a US gomen ban on the companies for alleged labour violations.

    Fortunately for the palm oil producers, the US accounts for only a small portion of FGV and Sime Darby’s sales.
     
  • The family of Nora Anne Quoirin have applied for a revision to the coroner’s court verdict which ruled the teen’s 2019 death a misadventure.

    This previous edition of BTL should bring you up to speed if you’re fuzzy on the deets of Nora’s case.
     
  • Contrary to rumours, there’ll be no change to the format of this year’s SPM examination.
     
  • Meanwhile, 102 of 221 secondary schools in Sabah have reported Covid cases since the school year began.
     
  • new strain of Covid is hitting Sarawak. Unfortunately, the clinical consequences of the new variant have yet to be fully determined.

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.”

- Mahatma Gandhi -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Gen Min Aung Hlaing, leader of Myanmar’s junta, has promised that an election will be held imminently with power handed to the winning party. Sure about that?
     
  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, fraud and criminal breach of trust. Benny, who was charged back in May, is the first sitting Israeli premier to go on trial.
     
  • Invite-only chat app Clubhouse’s been blocked in China just as thousands were flocking to it for uncensored convos on sensitive topics like Hong Kong and Xinjiang. 

    Clubhouse’s been around for about a year and became a mainstream phenom just last week after Elon Musk hosted a chat with Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev. Looks like the power of influencers is still strong!
     
  • South Africa’s paused its Covid-19 vaccine rollout after a study found the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to offer as little as 10% protection against a South African strain of the virus.
     
  • Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 31-9 win against the Kansas City Chiefs bagging himself a seventh Super Bowl title in the process.

    Brady’s win with the Buccaneers, after six titles with the New England Patriots, makes him far and away the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
     

Whoops

Yesterday, we said 164 police reports were lodged against former AG Tommy Thomas over his book. It’s actually 134. A slip of the finger is no fault of the mind.

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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