Prison coronavirus soup
When will we learn?
Things are getting worse in Sabah. And, no, we aren’t talking about the looming state elections, though things are getting heated on that front as well (but more on that later).
We’re talking about that massive coronavirus cluster in Lahad Datu and Tawau called ‘Benteng LD’ that’s showing no signs of abating. Out of 45 new Covid-19 infections recorded yesterday, 40 were from this cluster. With 170 patients linked to it, it’s now the biggest active cluster in the country.
Let’s recap. The cluster was triggered with the arrests of two undocumented migrants on Aug 24, who were then detained at the Lahad Datu police lock-up. They later tested positive. These index cases infected others in the lock-up and it soon spread to the Tawau prison via detainees transferred in from Lahad Datu.
Indeed, the congested and crowded lock-up, with almost no physical distancing measures, have been fingered as the major factors behind the spread. And it’s not just prisoners who are affected. Prison staff and family members, too, have been infected.
The Health Ministry is recommending new and old detainees be segregated for at least 14 days in a bid to curb further spread of the virus. Why 14 days? Cos that’s the incubation period (time from exposure to the development of symptoms) for the coronavirus.
This harkens back to when the MCO was first instituted and a spike in infections in the Masjid India area in Kuala Lumpur led to raids on undocumented migrants. There were fears lumping all those detained in already-crowded centres would create greater chances for Covid-19 to spread. No shit.
In fact, our own Prisons Department had earlier called on the courts to stop jailing people for violating the MCO as prison overcrowding already made social distancing “impossible”.
Though the government defended the raids, several organisations came out against it, and for various reasons. The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said the raids would prove counter-productive as it would drive undocumented migrants to flee at a time when the Health Ministry was trying its darndest to get them to come in to get tested for Covid-19.
Others said undocumented migrants were not acceptable casualties in the battle against Covid-19, and that the raids failed to nab the real culprits, the people bringing migrants in illegally.
Eventually, the raids led to Covid-19 clusters in three Immigration detention depots, the largest of which was at Bukit Jalil, which saw 653 people infected – the second-largest cluster in the country. That cluster only just closed a couple of days ago, after close to four months.
Now, we have no idea how the two index cases in the ‘Benteng LD’ were picked up. Whether they were detained in a raid or just happened to be found without valid documents, what matters most here is that there was no segregation of detainees in a place where physical distancing is impossible.
Yes, we understand the issue of undocumented migrants in Malaysia is a complex and thorny one. Our beloved gomen has repeatedly pointed out, those who enter the country illegally cannot be accorded special treatment as they’ve broken the country’s immigration laws.
Yet, as human rights NGOs have warned, persisting with the arrest-and-detain method of immigration control while ignoring the overcrowding of our detention centres and prisons is just a recipe for disaster, as it’s been proven time and again.
‘Benteng LD’ cluster aside, here are the other Covid-related news from yesterday:
- Yesterday’s infection numbers, taking into account the full recoveries of 24 patients, has pushed the total number of active cases to 333. Fortunately, the death toll remains at 128.
- Kota Setar in Kedah and the Tawau prison have been placed under administrative enhanced MCO as of midnight.
- The Health Ministry fears a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases again soon due to the high infectivity rate we’ve had over the past few days. Medical experts fear the same due to the laid-back attitude over SOPs of late.
- While the Benteng cluster is proving a problem in Sabah, virologists describe the ‘Sungai’ cluster in Kedah, Perlis and Penang as a “ticking timebomb” for the northern region.
- The entry ban for people from 23 countries with over 150,000 Covid-19 cases has been relaxed somewhat. Expats and those holding professional visit passes will now be allowed to enter the country, though they will have to get prior approval from the Immigration Department.
- Recovery MCO regulations have also been relaxed, with shops and food outlets now being allowed to open till 2am and foreigners allowed go pray in mosques.
'Worst kind of abuse'
Remember when former supreme and glorious leader Najib Razak had the dubious honour of being Malaysia’s first former prime minister to be found guilty by the courts?
In case you don’t, let us refresh your memory – Our man Jibby was sentenced to 12 years in prison (well, 72 actually, but since his sentence on each count was to be served concurrently, that amounts to only 12) and fined RM210 million in relation to corruption-related offences involving one-time 1MDB subsidiary SRC International.
Well, High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali meted out the sentence in what is called an oral judgment, as opposed to a written judgment.
Now, oral judgments can be long, but written judgments are generally a lot longer. Way longer, in fact. And, as usual, it took a while before our learned judge finalised his written judgment in this particular case and what a doozy its turned out to be, all 801 pages of it.
Nazlan called the case the worst kind of abuse of position, criminal breach of trust and money laundering because it involved the PM at the time, the highest authority in the country; because of how the crimes were committed; and, because of the amount involved, which was RM42 million.
Of course, he had a whole lot more to say, as you can imagine. Just the article on it alone runs pretty long, so we’ve broken it down a little for you to save time. Here are some of the more important bits:
- The RM42 million involved had an element of public impact as the money belonged to the Ministry of Finance Inc and could’ve originated from the RM4 billion financing from the state pension fund (KWAP).
- Jibby is a person with a keen intellect and must surely have a firm sense of right and wrong.
- The offences were committed when Najib was PM, thus betraying the public trust and as a consequence must be punished in accordance with the law.
- Najib did not express any remorse and even maintained his defence of no knowledge of the RM42 million from SRC in his mitigation speech.
- It could not be denied that Najib as PM had done good for the country and political history would continue to debate whether he had done more good than harm, but this process would be inimical to the ideals of a clean administration that does not tolerate corruption and abuse of power.
- It would be “incredible” that Najib did not know the source of the RM42 million in his accounts.
The written judgment formed part of the appeal record sent to the Court of Appeal. Naturally, Bossku, who’s put on a ‘what’s-there-to-be-ashamed-of‘ mask of bravado since the sentencing, is appealing the case.
Meanwhile, things are not looking good for our former PM in another of his court cases, this time related to 1MDB and a whopping RM2.28 billion in funds. The High Court has ruled that former 1MDB CEO Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman’s witness statement be allowed and that the man should take the witness stand on Monday.
This will come as a blow to Najib and his defence team as they had applied on Monday to remove certain parts of the witness statement, claiming these contained various allegations considered hearsay. What yesterday’s decision means is that Hazem is now free to read out his entire 118-page witness statement, including the bits Jibby & co contested.
In related news, former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng is seeking a review of the four charges against him in relation to the 1MDB-linked US$6.5 billion bonds case. In simpler words, this means he is seeking to possibly have the charges withdrawn, or, reach a plea bargain. A letter of representation was sent to the Attorney-General’s Chambers for review.
The mess that is Sabah
So, after days of speculation, accusations, verbal jousting and political jostling, various parties have finally announced their candidates for the Sabah state elections. But if we thought things would be less confusing, boy, were we wrong.
With nomination day happening tomorrow, it’s clear we’re gonna see multi-cornered fights in many of the seats as people who are supposed to be partners appear not to be working hand in hand at all.
But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the very beginning, and as it was sung in the Sound of Music, that’s a very good place to start.
The day started out with both Perikatan Nasional and Warisan Plus deciding to delay announcing their respective candidate lists. And we should’ve known how the day would go from then on.
In Bersatu and BN’s case, things fell apart at a joint event where both were supposed to announce their candidates. Instead, what we got was a “get-together” reception as Sabah BN chief Bung Moktar Radin and state Bersatu head Hajiji Mohd Noor tried to show a united front (to save face la!).
The various parties eventually announced their candidates, and as we found out, there seems to be a non-Covid clusterf**k to be had with unhappy families on both sides of the great political divide in the Land Below the Wind.
This segment would turn out to be a really long one if we were to go into detail about what happened, so we’ve cut it down to bite-sized chunks for you here:
- BN will be contesting 31 seats, dropping former chief minister Musa Aman but including former minister Salleh Said Keruak, who is also a former CM. Asked why Musa was dropped, Abang Bung says Mighty Moses never asked to be included. Musa’s fate remains a mystery.
- Perikatan will be contesting 29 seats, including three which will see it go up against BN (yes the same BN which is supposed to be part of PN), all of which will be contested by STAR candidates.
- The same STAR, meanwhile, is unhappy with the ultimate lot of eight seats handed to it to contest but will remain with the coalition. This despite president Jeffrey Kitingan having earlier threatened to pull out of Perikatan if it wasn’t allocated 18 seats.
- PBS, which is part of the federal Perikatan setup but is going it alone in the Sabah election, has announced it will be contesting 15 seats, six of which would see the party come up against BN, of which it was a component party till 2018.
- PKR reps are unhappy their party will only be contesting seven seats, half of what they had hoped for. PKR Youth immediately cried “betrayal” and warned of protest votes, but Sabah PKR chief Christina Liew later said the party accepted the decision by Warisan president Shafie Apdal.
- Among the seats to be contested by Warisan itself is Senallang, where Shafie will come up against his own nephew, Bersatu’s Norazman Utoh Nain.
- Warisan Plus will be using three logos during the upcoming elections with DAP and Amanah to use Warisan’s logo, while PKR and UPKO plan to use their own.
- There could be an impediment to the state polls, albeit a temporary one. The Federal Court is expected to hear an application by Tamparuli assemblyman Jahid @ Noordin Jahim today for a temporary stay on the elections pending disposal of the “rightful Sabah chief minister” appeal by Musa.
- Covid-19 patients will not be allowed to leave the hospital to vote while those with symptoms but have yet to test positive for the coronavirus will have to cast their votes in specially-designated tents.
- A group of mainly university students has begun a crowdfunding campaign to help young Sabahans travel home to vote in the state elections. Dubbed #PulangMengundiSabah, the campaign is aimed at registered voters between 21 and 35 who earn less than RM3,000 a month.
Boy, but this is gonna be an interesting election. We can’t wait!
Flotsam and jetsam
As usual, a few other things made the news over the weekend, and here’re some of the more important odds and ends:
- Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Zahidi Zainul Abidin has FINALLY formally apologised to the Dewan Negara for his childish, irresponsible, bullying, erroneous statement that Sabahan lass Veveonah Mosibin faked climbing a tree to get Internet coverage for YouTube fame. Lucky boy Zahidi will not be referred to the Rights and Privileges Committee. So that’s it? Not even a slap on the wrist for this guy? Nice that he apologised to a bunch of senators, but, when is he gonna apologise to his actual victim??!?
Instead, it was Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who met with Veveonah and her family to apologise on the government’s behalf. He has also suggested she work with the Malaysian Innovation Foundation to develop innovation projects on environment conservation in her village.
- Former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad has slammed his ex-political aide Zahid Md Arif for claiming the nonagenarian was delighted with the Sheraton Move, which led to the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government, but did not show it, calling the man “the biggest liar in Malaysian politics”. So, it’s not Jibby Razak, then, Tun?
- The King’s daughter, Tengku Puteri Raja Tengku Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah has called for suicide to be decriminalised.
“Malaysian authorities should understand that protecting the country’s entire population from Covid-19 means reducing its crowded prison population, not putting more people behind bars."
- Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch-
IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- The number of Covid-19 infections worldwide has topped 28 million cases, with more than 904,000 deaths already. You can track the infection count here.
At least eight people have so far been killed as wildfires rage across the US West Coast.
- Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has hit out at President Donald Trump for having no concept of what constitutes national security after The Donald disclosed (more like bragged) in interviews of a classified nuclear weapons system.
- Microsoft is claiming the same Russian state-backed group linked to hacking Hillary Clinton’s campaign is now targetting one of Biden’s main election campaign advisory firms.
- The EU has given an ultimatum – that UK forsakes plans to change Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal by the end of the month, or risk jeopardising trade talks. Even so, a cabinet minister says the UK is standing firm by the bill it published to rewrite parts of the withdrawal agreement it signed in January.
- Dame Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in hit spy show The Avengers, the Countess Teresa di Vicenzo, or Tracy Bond – James Bond’s first and only wife to date – in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Lady Olenna Tyrell in the smash HBO show Game of Thrones, has passed away aged 82.