To prevent a state- and nation-wide crisis, the Health Ministry is moving to make sure all kids in Sabah below the age of five receive extra polio immunisation. But could this problem have been avoided before it got to this stage? In other news, Lim Guan Eng says Pakatan Harapan is purposely being targeted by the Opposition for taking a moderate stance, and that old problem with Jawi calligraphy rears its head again.

The polio problem

Equal rights?

All 59 children in the area where a three-month-old baby was infected with polio have been checked and vaccinated. But the Health Ministry isn’t taking chances and is now saying all kids in Sabah below the age of five will receive an extra round of immunisation.

According to Health D-G Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, even though no new cases have been detected since that one in Tuaran, a plan of action is currently being drawn up, with authorities looking to implement the immunisation initiative ASAP. 

In a statement Sunday, the Academy of Medicine Malaysia (AMM), while praising the transparency of the Ministry, slammed the irresponsible attitudes of anti-vaxxers (they’d be hung, drawn and quartered if it were up to us) who’ve contributed to the situation with their campaigns against childhood vaccination. AMM mooted tougher measures to counter the crap anti-vaxxers are spewing.

However, it also touched on another issue that’s been largely unaddressed since of news of Malaysia’s first polio case in 27 years broke: that part of the blame for the current situation might just lie at the feet of the government.

Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad has made it very clear the immunisation initiative will include everyone, including the Sabah’s undocumented and stateless population. However, this has rarely been the case.

According to official figures, foreigners make up a third of Sabah’s present population. In September last year, that translated to 1.15 million out of 3.9 million people. Out of that number, approximately 500,000 people in the state are said to be stateless and/or undocumented.

Why these figures matter is simple: stateless or undocumented people don’t generally have access to public health care (or for that matter, education) in Malaysia, and when they do try to seek medical attention, they get charged a tonne due to lacking documentation.

And here’s one more thing to consider: According to a 2016 Al Jazeera report, there are at least 50,000 stateless kids in Sabah. That’s 50,000 kids likely with no access to public immunisation and other public health benefits.

AMM, in its statement, rightly highlighted that the problems related to statelessness are not easily tackled, especially as they involve questions of immigration and national security. However, doesn’t this policy of not extending reasonably-priced public healthcare services to all people within Malaysia’s borders put everyone at risk?

Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes a fundamental right for every kid, regardless of where they’re from, to have access to healthcare. Unfortunately, despite Malaysia signing the Convention in 1995, we have stood steadfast in areas like health and education.

This situation with polio suggests that it’s perhaps time for a rethink of our policies.

They hate us 'cos they ain't us

Unlike the PKR convention, there were no fisticuffs or backbiting at this past weekend’s Penang DAP meet. In fact, what was most notable about the convention were the statements of party leaders to close ranks, not hurt Pakatan Harapan with meaningless quibbling, and to fight hate with love … yes, seriously.

In a speech that touched on Jawi/khat, the Negaraku in Mandarin issue as well as Pakatan’s road ahead, party boss and Money Minister Lim Guan Eng claimed the ruling coalition was getting whacked by the Opposition and its supporters because it practised moderation. 

According to Saudara Lim, Umno and PAS, which were ousted in the last General Election, are looking for a way back, and they’ve attempted to achieve this goal by, among others, calling for the boycott of non-Muslim products and spreading lies against non-Muslims (see here and here for examples not provided by Guan Eng). 

LGE has a point, of course. The rhetoric from the other side over the last year or so has been very racially-charged. However, it’s worth also noting that Pakatan’s most recent trouncing in an election (Tanjung Piai) probably occurred not so much because the coalition is moderate, but because lotsa folks are fed-up with the government. Also, it seems kinda strange to talk up Pakatan’s moderate stance when just weeks ago, at the Perak DAP convention, Guan Eng’s daddy-o Kit Siang said the coalition “must return to the moderate centre”. Doesn’t “return” suggest there’s been a veering/deviation? 

We’ll answer our own question – yes, they’ve deviated. And the irony of this is that Pakatan’s move to the right isn’t necessarily winning them conservative voters – but is costing them the liberal vote bank that helped them win the last election. 

Anyhoo, Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, who also starred at the convention, called on DAP members to give Pakatan time to fulfil election promises.

Drawing comparisons to 2008, when the then Opposition took over Penang, Chow said there’d always be a period of “stabilisation”, and that the coalition, having already fulfilled 60% of its election promises, would settle the rest in two years. Yes, two!

Firstly, is 60% is correct? Really? This report card on election promises is from May, but check out how far away they were from Chow’s 60% boast even back then. And secondly, like many others, we’re not gonna be too pissed if it takes Pakatan, one, two or even the full five years to fulfil its pledges. So long as promises are kept, most Malaysians, we reckon, will be cool. What folks won’t accept though is more backtracking and bullshitting.

Scripting mistrust

Speaking of backtracking, remember the government’s move to introduced Jawi/khat and how the proposed six pages eventually became three? Well, we’ve got our first glimpse of those three pages now. And at least from what we can see, they look pretty harmless.

In a nutshell, the three pages in the Standard Four Bahasa Malaysia textbook only focus on the Jawi script that appears on the national coat of arms (the word Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu), ringgit notes (Bank Negara Malaysia and Ringgit Malaysia) and stamps (Malaysia). So why all the fuss, and why are some folks still not happy?

In early August, the government said Jawi calligraphy would be part of the Standard 4 BM syllabus. The idea then, according to PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Education Minister Maszlee Malik, was that the lessons would not only spur greater appreciation of BM, but also teach kids beautiful handwriting. Politicians, educationists and interest groups were split on the idea. Eventually, though – after a bunch of protests and the DAP having to allay the concerns of members (one of whom pelted a Perak rep’s service centre with eggs) – the government agreed to reduce the pages to just three, and allow PIBGs (that’ Parent Teacher Associations to those of you that can’t remember PIBG) to decide whether children in particular schools would be taught the lessons.

Among the concerns voiced when the Jawi lessons were first mooted was that the government had hastily pushed the idea through without consultation with stakeholders. Indeed, looking back at all the controversy, most of the frustration stemmed from the fact that few people knew the whys, hows and wherefores. Fast forward four months and it’s kinda the same story. 

The new school semester starts in around two weeks and until the pics were published, the public was not aware of what was gonna go into the textbooks. And here’s the best part: it seems the Education Ministry only finalised the content last week!

That’s right, folks. It took these Einsteins four months since the matter was resolved to come up with three measly pages. 

Were stakeholders consulted during this period to make sure everything was in order? We have no idea. However, Chinese educationist group Dong Zong’s announcement days ago that it’s holding a gathering on Dec 28 to protest the implementation of the lessons suggests that once more, Maszlee and co. have chosen to leave everyone in the dark. Is it any wonder then that an online poll recently named the guy the most unpopular Malaysian minister? More importantly, if Pakatan thinks pulling crap like this is gonna help them claw back the support of Malaysians, they’ve got another thing coming.

Odds and ends

To be honest, it was quite a quiet weekend. But here’s what else happened:

  • Despite reiterating his promise to step down and hand over the reins to Anwar Ibrahim, PM Maddey’s thrown some major shade on his once rival, saying in an interview in Qatar that there’s no guarantee his successor will be the “best person” for the job. We’re tempted to quote George Santayana here.
     
  • Azmin Ali has filed a counterclaim against the travel agency suing him for recovery RM328,901 in unpaid flight tickets and hotel stays. Azmin says the company’s claim is part of a conspiracy linked to a sex video allegedly featuring him. Hmmm. Maybe it is, but here’s something to consider: maybe first pay what you owe?
     
  • More than 10,000 people have been displaced by floods affecting parts of the country. While Johor is the worst hit with 9,000+ victims, Pahang, Kelantan, Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak have also been affected. The situation is particularly awful in interior Sarawak where, some 500 people, who’ve been denied from having supplies like cooking gas restocked, have been forced to survive on biscuits and canned food.
     
  • Hannah Yeoh has responded to the cops terminating investigations into a sexual harassment case for apparent lack of evidence by calling on authorities to be more sensitive. The Deputy Women, Families and Community Development Minister added that her ministry is in the process of drafting new laws to better deal with such issues.
     
  • Works Minister Baru Bian is NOT amused with the condition of the Pan Borneo Highway and is gonna be keeping a close eye on sub-contractors after an on-site accident yesterday caused two workers to get injured

"The common people pray for rain, healthy children and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace."

- George R. R. Martin -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • According to Boris Johnson’s cabinet office minister, the British PM will “get Brexit done” by Jan 31, 2020, and agree on a new trade deal with the European Union before the end of next year. We’d have doubted this before, true. But after his Torries romped to victory, who’d dare bet against BoJo?
     
  • Groups of masked protesters marched through shopping malls in Hong Kong with skirmishes involving riot police frequently breaking out. Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam is meanwhile in Beijing to meet with Chinese officials.
     
  • China’s state state broadcaster CCTV has pulled coverage of Arsenal’s EPL game against title-holders Manchester City after Mesut Ozil posted Twitter and Instagram messages expressing support for the Uighurs in Xinjiang.
     
  • A 6.8 magnitude quake struck the Southern Philippine island of Mindanao Sunday leaving at least one person – a six-year-old girl – dead and several others injured.
     
  • Police and protesters have clashed in Delhi during demonstrations against a controversial new law on migration. The protests have been raging across the north and east of India since the law was passed earlier this week.

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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