With no end in sight to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) always looked likely to be extended. The big question though is whether Malaysia can see itself through to Dec 31.

In other news, Barisan Nasional wins big in Slim, durian farmers are raising a stink in Raub, and after a month with no Covid-19 fatalities, we suddenly have two! Oh, and by the way, even though celebrations this year were muted, we'd still like to wish you Selamat Hari Kebangsaan!

The long goodbye

RMCO extension a signal for dog days ahead?

With new Covid-19 clusters emerging left, right and centre, it always looked like likely that our movement curbs would be extended beyond Aug 31. And on Friday, we finally got confirmation from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

 

The new end date for the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) is Dec 31 and what that means practically is that by the time 2020 is through, most of the country’s religious and cultural festivals, as well as New Year’s Eve, would have been celebrated under movement control. It sucks, of course, but given how Covid has made comebacks in countries where restrictions were lifted too quickly, the government’s move to maintain the status quo is perhaps, for the best.

 

Malaysia has been in recovery mode since June 10, and over the last couple of months, we have seen more and more restrictions lifted and some semblance of normality return. Nevertheless, there’re a number of things we still can’t do, and according to MooMoo, these three at least will remain no-nos until the end of the year:

  • Nightclubs and entertainment centres resuming operations
  • Foreign tourists entering the country
  • Sports activities with foreign participants

There’re sound justifications for maintaining restrictions on the above sectors, of course. However, what certainly can’t be denied is that the first two of the three sectors listed are gonna be seriously crippled by the time the country eventually opens up in 2021.

 

International tourism, for one, has contributed a lot to the nation’s economy over the years. An extended RMCO now means that not only won’t there be an injection of moolah from that industry this year, we may also soon witness more businesses in that sector – tour agents and hotels among them – shutting shop.

 

Regrettably too, it’s not like the government can simply pump in cash to cushion the blow because well, it just doesn’t have enough!

 

True, we recently raised the country’s debt ceiling for the first time in more than 10 years, and that, in theory, should allow for more money to be borrowed for targetted responses aimed at helping the rakyat. Thing is, while the Temporary Measures for Reducing the Impact of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19) Bill 2020 raises the limit on how much cash the country can loan, the bill also set aside RM45 billion in Covid-19 relief. And according to the smart people at international research firm Fitch Solutions, by the time that sum is disbursed, we’ll be close to bumping our head on the ceiling.

 

In a nutshell, that means the government will have very little room to spend. So we really all best keep our fingers, toes and eyes crossed that we make it through to the end of the year.

 

There is some light at the end of this dark tunnel though as in spite of all this, Fitch says that it expects Malaysia’s economy to recover strongly in 2021. But that’s provided of course, that another threat to our economy and livelihoods doesn’t rear its head.

Two deaths and new clusters

After approximately a month with zero Covid-19 deaths, Malaysia managed to register two in the span of two days, raising the country’s fatality rate to 127. Both deaths were recorded in Kedah, with the latest case being a diabetic and hypertensive 62-year-old man, who was the Tawar cluster index case’s elder brother.

 

The Tawar cluster remains the second-largest active cluster in the country, with as many as 74 cases recorded. However, it’s only one of five infection clusters in Kedah, the latest of which was detected in Telaga days ago, and involves medical staff members at Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah, the state’s main hospital for treatment of coronavirus cases. 

 

While the Health Ministry says the affected medical personnel had not been caring for Covid-19 patients at the hospital, extensive contact tracing involving family members and staff at the hospital has been initiated, detecting as many as five cases so far.

 

Elsewhere, clusters have also been detected aboard two ships docked in Port Klang and Port Dickson. The silver lining with regard to those incidences, though, is that the infections look to be confined to the two vessels concerned. Phew!

 

Incidentally, while clusters keep popping up and the death toll has increased, the number of active cases has dropped significantly to just 159, with just six people being treated intensive care. Even so, Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah says his ministry is staying alert and even preparing for a possible year-end uptick in infections. 

 

Superman Hisham says an increase in cases in certain countries during the cold weather is cause for concern and as such, his ministry will be looking ahead and making preparations in the event a surge in winter season infections in other places have a knock-on effect in Malaysia.

 

Anyways … here are a few other Covid-19 updates from the long weekend:

  • Despite PM Muhyiddin supporting double and/or tripling of fines for breaching Covid-19 health protocols from the current RM1,000, many people, including Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, have voiced their dissatisfaction with the proposal, noting that the move would lack moral justification if it’s not first imposed on Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali. Kok does have a point about unequal justice, true. Unfortunately, laws generally can’t be applied retroactively.
     
  • Speaking of Khairuddin, by the way, PAS spiritual leader Hashim Jasin has defended the minister, calling him a “hero” and laying the blame for the whole kerfuffle on the Health and Foreign Ministries. That’s right, it’s someone else’s fault that Khai is a dumbass and couldn’t duduk diam kat rumah.  
     
  • Finally, Health D-G Noor Hisham has refuted claims that he’s the chief operations officer of a gem mining company. The company appears to have used Hisham’s pic for a dude listed as Aidan Razif on its website. Meanwhile, a senior deputy registrar of Universiti Sains Malaysia’s also appears to have had his mug falsely used by the company. 

Fat win for BN in Slim

It always did look like Barisan Nasional’s Mohd Zaidi Aziz was a shoo-in for the Slim state seat, so his victory on Saturday was hardly surprising. Even so, the dude’s 10,945 majority win, that far outstrips BN’s 2,000-odd vote majority in the 14th General Election, is massive and could suggest a sign of things to come.

 

It’s noteworthy, of course, that Slim is a BN stronghold and that the coalition’s strongest rival in previous elections, PAS, was backing the former this time. Still, the fact that Zaidi’s opponents, Pejuang proxy man Amir Khusyairi Mohd Tanusi and indie S. Santharasekaran, hardly managed to make a dent – polling just 2,115 and 271 respectively – means a lot. Here’re some facts and figures to explain why:

  • BN’s vote share from the by-election was 84.37% by the time all the ballots were counted and that’s hella impressive because even if you were to add all BN and PAS’ votes from 2018, you’d only get 66.9%.
     
  • There are 13 voting districts in Slim, and BN won them all! In GE14, the coalition only managed to do the business in seven of those.
     
  • It was much the same story in terms of early votes, with BN bagging 95% of the ballots.
     
  • Most significantly, though, non-Malays in the area – Indians make up 13% of the total voters in the constituency, while Chinese voters comprise 10% of the total – appear to have swung back to BN. Take these two instances for example: In 2018, the majority of voters in the Indian-majority voting district of Ladang Sungkai backed the Pakatan Harapan candidate.
    This time, however, the facts show that they voted in favour of BN. The same thing also appeared to happen in the Chinese-majority district of Sungai Slim Utara.
    Why is this important? Well, for one, when Umno’s union with PAS via Muafakat Nasional was first announced, the worry was that the political marriage would sideline non-Malays. The results in Slim, however, indicate that the average Muthu and Ah Hock may not be as perturbed about it as political analysts would have you believe.

BN boss Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, of course, claims Zaidi’s victory shows the coalition has regained lost ground and people are once more, flocking to it, and ya know, it’s hard to argue with that assertion. But what may also be true is that Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s new party, Pejuang, is incapable of putting up a fight and the old man’s time in the political sun is over. At least that’s the view of DAP’s Tebing Tinggi Aziz Bari, who also serves as Perak opposition leader.

 

Analysts like University of Malaya’s Awang Azman Awang Pawi though say Pejuang’s future can’t be judged merely on one outing – and in a BN stronghold at that. The big question though is, how many more chances will Maddey, sonny boy Mukhriz and their merry men get to prove their worth before GE15 rolls around?

 

By the way, it’s not just Pejuang that certain folks have slammed as being irrelevant, but the Mads’ old party Bersatu too. Indeed, according to PKR’s Saifuddin Nasution, Bersatu’s election machinery was hardly seen during campaigning in Slim. Having seen no other reports about this, it’s hard to say if the guy is correct. But we’ll surely hear about it all soon enough if the party didn’t show up. 

 

Anyhoo, whether or not BN’s really now got the upper hand will be put to the test come next month in the Sabah state elections. This is the big one, folks – and the whole country will be watching with bated breath.

 

P.S. Despite losing out in Slim, Pejuang may just be in the process of making gains down south in Johor following news that Bersatu’s Osman Sapian, the guy who resigned from his post as menteri besar under Maddey’s watch, was spotted campaigning in Perak for his former boss’ new party. Osman claims, of course, that nothing sinister is afoot. However, a Johor opposition leader suggests that things are not as they seem to be.

Smells like mean spirit

Something clearly stinks in Raub, the land of the Musang King durian.

The issue involving durian farmers in the area has taken up significant column inches over the past couple of weeks and the matter’s now even been brought to the courts. But what indeed, you may ask, has all the fuss been about, and how will the matter impact the sale and consumption of the king of fruits?

 

Well, the TL;DR version is like this: There’re apparently a massive number of unlicensed durian orchards in Raub, and the Pahang state government is looking to reclaim the more than 5,000 acres of farmland these orchards sit on. This reclamation via a joint venture between state entity, Perbadanan Kemajuan Pertanian Negeri Pahang (PKPP), and Royal Pahang Durian Resources (RPDR), an allegedly royalty-linked private company.

 

The big problem, however, is that affected durian farmers are crying foul, claiming they’re only considered unlicensed ’cos their applications for land titles and related licenses have repeatedly not been entertained. Here’s the other issue: they’ve allegedly been there for a long ass time and claim the state government has reneged on an initial promise to grant land titles to folks who relocated to the area back in the 1970s, when the Communist Party of Malaya was still a threat and the authorities wanted eyes on the ground. 

 

On the other side of this particularly thorny issue is the consortium of PKPP-RPDR that’s looking to legitimise the durian orchards as it were by introducing a legalisation scheme which at least one group claims would see farmers in the area paying rent of RM6,000 per acre for this year, and an additional levy of up to RM20,000 per acre based on durians produced.

 

The sum is massive, no doubt, especially when you factor in the huge land some of these farmers have. But is the scheme lopsided and unjust? Well, consider this: The main group protesting it, Save Musang King Alliance (Samka), claims the levies are only part of the problem ‘cos the so-called legalisation deal also makes it mandatory for farmers to sell a fixed amount of durians every year to PKPP-RPDR for a fixed price.

 

It’s no secret that Musang King durians are big business – Malaysia exported something like RM30 million worth of the fruit to China last year alone – so the big issue here is really about how much money can be made and by whom. The farmers, for their part, are concerned that they’re being shortchanged.

Is the Pahang state government out of line in wanting to make some moolah from levies on orchard land? Probably not. The questions, however, are whether the farmers and residents on the land currently have been repeatedly denied legitimate title claims, and why this has continued to occur from the 1970s.

When you consider that – depending on whether they are grown from seeds or grafts – durian trees can take anywhere between four to 10 years to mature, a cynical person would say this is a great shortcut for the powers that be to let somebody else do all the hard work before swooping in to enjoy the fruits (sorry, couldn’t resist) of their labour.

 

In any case, as things stand right now, a stay order has been granted following an application by Samka for the courts to review whether the Pahang state government was within its rights to let PKPP-RPDR dictate terms in regard to the 5,000-odd acres of farmland in Raub. This means for the next two months, until the court sits again on Oct 28, the farmers can go about their business as usual.

 

What will happen after that, though, is anyone’s guess.

Bits and bobs

We realise today’s newsletter is already quite long. However, there’re still a few other things you should definitely know about heading into your workweek. We’ll try and keep this section as brief as possible though.

  • According to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s asset declaration portal, the government’s new top earner is not PM Moo, but Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan. Thing is, while Sara’s monthly take-home income is reportedly RM143,628, his declared assets are less than RM1 million. We guess he ain’t too big on saving. Sara, by the way, was one of five Perikatan Nasional ministers who had not declared his wealth on July 22, when the list first went “live”.
     
  • Dr M’s former cheerleader-in-chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman claims his new political movement, tentatively dubbed Muda Malaysia, will be a multiracial, independent platform that will, among other things, seek to do away with money politics. The boy wonder talks a good game in his interview with Malaysiakini and there are, as expected, soundbites aplenty. However, we can’t help but remember the dude’s numerous gaffes, like that dinner party with Zakir Naik or the RM250,000 in cash that was lying around his house, and wonder how true to the cause the former minister will be. 
     
  • PAS’ Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh refusal to apologise for claiming the bible was “distorted” has succeeded in irking a large number of Malaysian Christians, who’ve taken the guy to task over his remarks in Parliament last week. Even, Parti Bersatu Sabah, which is part of the Perikatan administration with PAS, has called Zawawi’s claims “seditious and unforgivable”. And PAS wonders why most non-Muslims vomit blood at the thought of these jokers running the country?
     
  • Dhaya Maju LTAT Sdn Bhd, the company tasked with carrying out the Klang Valley Double Tracking Project and which was dragged into the spotlight following the gomen’s revelation of 101 direct nego contracts signed off on by Pakatan Harapan, says the current administration has no basis to terminate the project. Dhaya Maju was first engaged by the BN government and then saw its contract renegotiated during Pakatan’s time in power. Current Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong had said last week though that the Perikatan government was looking at reopening the project tender as it was still overpriced.

“Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.”

- Herbert Hoover -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • As global Covid-19 cases top 25 million, the infection rate in India shows no signs of abating. The country, which has been posting highest single-day caseloads since Aug 7, now has a cumulative total of more than 3.6 million cases. It’s still in third place, though, behind Brazil in second, and the United States, at the top of the infection chart with 6 million cases. But the pandemic and the resulting lockdown has resulted in India’s economy shrinking at its highest pace ever – 23.9% in Q2 this year. Brutal.
     
  • While the announcement of his imminent departure on Friday wasn’t totally unexpected, there is mucho concern that Shinzo Abe’s resignation as Japanese PM could have major implications on peace in this part of the world. Abe may not have always got things right during his time as premier, but he and Japan were generally seen as beacons of stability in the region.
     
  • Speaking of the Land of the Rising Sun, a Japanese company has announced the first successful manned test drive (or should that be test flight?) of a flying car. Someone oughtta alert our former flying car minister Redzuan Md Yusof!
     
  • The tributes have kept pouring in for actor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away from colon cancer on Saturday, with the entire 2020 MTV video music awards ceremony being dedicated to the Black Panther star. Incidentally, the tweet announcing Boseman’s death has become the most liked post ever on Twitter. 
     
  • Rwandan businessman Paul Rusesabagina, who saved more than 1,200 people during the 1994 genocide and inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, has been held on terror charges. Rusesabagina is, notably, an outspoken critic of Rwandan prez Paul Kagame and has previously been accused of links with rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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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