Malaysia's planning to buy into a global programme for the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. Coming just a day after inking a vaccine deal with China, dare we hope of a possible Covid-free future?

For now, though, our daily coronavirus numbers have shot back up to four figures; a government move's been likened to a Nazi practice during World War II; a minister threatens legal action; and we talk some money matters.

Vaccination anticipation

Covid wars: A new hope

Dare we believe? Will we have a vaccine soon? Or is it all just a pipe dream?

 

Beard Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has said Malaysia will be joining the global Covid-19 vaccine development platform Covax Facility, paying RM94 million upfront to take part in the initiative. What this will do is guarantee Malaysia’s early access to the vaccine being developed. 

 

Though we’ll generally take this at face value (cos we need the good news, dammit!), we have to ask, with 172 of the world’s 195 countries being part of Covax Facility – and all presumably having paid for the privilege, like us – how would’ early access’ be determined? 🤔

 

Also, is Malaysia preparing to ensure we have the facilities needed to transport and store the vaccines? In some cases, developers have said the vaccines must be kept in sub-zero temperatures.

 

Anywayyyyy, currently, the Covax Facility is supporting nine vaccine candidates and is evaluating nine more, meaning that this is the most comprehensive programme available. So, this is good news for Malaysians currently in the grip of a virulent third wave of infections. 

 

This comes on the back of announcements by several companies with encouraging results in their quests for a vaccine. This includes the one being jointly developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, another by Moderna and one by AstraZeneca

 

There are also five vaccines being developed by Chinese companies, such as Sinotac, and currently undergoing clinical trials in several countries. If you may recall, Malaysia and China only the other day signed an agreement that makes the former a priority recipient of vaccines developed in the latter. 

 

If all goes well then, Malaysians can possibly expect a vaccine in the first half of 2021, though as has been said before, the first doses will be for frontliners (and rightly so!), with us lesser mortals having to wait till later. 

 

All said and done, though, that’s still a relief, considering we’re still suffering from that horrible third wave we talked about earlier. And what a wave it is.

 

Covid numbers

 

After a dip to 660 new cases on Wednesday, it was back to bad news yesterday as we climbed back into the four-digit realm with 1,290 new cases and a record 110 patients in ICUs. Our active cases are now at 13,222 and with 4 new deaths, the death has now climbed to 326

 

While the majority of the cases are from Sabah, at 660 cases, Selangor isn’t very far behind with 407. The majority (245) of Selangor cases come from the ‘Teratai’ work cluster linked to a factory in the state. 

 

Four new clusters were detected yesterday, two in the Klang Valley and one each in Perak and Johor. 

 

But here’s the thing. As we fight for a vaccine and while we battle the pandemic, are we at risk of sacrificing a bit of our basic humanity in the name of health and safety? 

 

The government is mulling the idea of making foreign construction workers wear wristbands to identify them more easily in public, and this is an idea that’s bringing up uncomfortable comparisons and parallels. 

 

NGO Lawyers for Liberty has said the gomen is incentivising xenophobic behaviour – which we’ve already seen a fair bit of, mind you – and equated this idea to Nazism during World War II, when Jews were forced to wear badges in the form of yellow stars as a means of identification. 

 

Still, one government measure many are okay with is the one to declare an emergency in Batu Sapi to postpone the by-election. Especially as the massive Sabah polls in Sept led to out third wave of Covid infections.

 

But as we cautioned yesterday, it’s a slippery slope and we should be wary of the precedent it sets. Already we have Perak MB Faizal Azumu saying the same should be done for the Gerik constituency. 

 

Gerik’s incumbent Hasbullah Osman only passed away a few days ago and his seat hasn’t even been declared vacant yet (though that’s only a matter of time) and already, our brilliant MB is calling for an emergency. It can take up to two months to hold the by-election, so this is a little premature, to say the least. 

 

Like we said, it’s better to improve our election system in the long run.

Shake them money makers

There’s been much debate over Putrajaya’s decision to allow desperate folks to dip into retirement savings from their respective Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) accounts.

 

In a nutshell, the debate centres around two main arguments – the move offers Malaysians who’ve lost income a lifeline to survive the pandemic; or that it’ll come back to bite withdrawers as their savings could dry up in the future.

 

So you’re caught up, the EPF recently clarified its i-Sinar service which allows contributors to access 10% of their savings in Account 1. But, the amount withdrawn will have to be replaced with future contributions

 

Joining the debate is veteran biz editor P. Gunasegaram. In a commentary yesterday, he’s called the government “highly irresponsible” for using EPF funds to stimulate the economy. His main point – as the vast majority of employees in Malaysia have not lost their jobs, this’ll lead to erosion of retirement earnings and could cause structural problems in the financial system by forcing the EPF to sell assets. 

 

It’s a long-ass piece that is scathing of the Perikatan “backdoor government”. Still, we have to warn you the news site the piece is on is said to be linked to certain member of the opposition, so have a bucket of salt ready.

 

Having said that, some points seem to ring true. EPF has already said it’ll have to sell off assets to fund depositor withdrawals. But we also have to point out that EPF had already begun doing so earlier in the year even before the recent move. 

 

Gunasegaram is not the only one to be critical of the whole episode. Experts and analysts have told contributors to think thrice before withdrawing from their EPF.

 

In fact, EPF itself has said withdrawing from Account 1 should be a “last dip” action. Like this expert, the fund says there are other methods of assistance available to those who are desperate for funds. 

 

We at BTL are no financial experts, so all we’ll say is think ten times before deciding to go the EPF route or not.

 

The hullabaloo about EPF is not the only issue about money matters that made the news yesterday. A few days ago, Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal suggested the gomen just “print more money and give it to the people to spend”. 

 

It’s called helicopter money, and it has its pros and cons, just like everything else. But, our man Fayhsal immediately came into a lot of criticism as critics said it would devalue the ringgit and cause inflation, or even hyperinflation as was the case in Zimbabwe. It could also be open to abuse. 

 

Well, Fayhsal came out swinging yesterday, saying critics don’t understand the matter and were making false assumptions about the effects of printing more money. 

 

That didn’t stop DAP MP Steven Sim urging PM Muhyiddin to gag Fayhsal, though and instruct Fayhsal to withdraw the statement. Our fellow Malaysians got in on the fun, with a spot of good ol’ Twitter trolling.

 

Yes, there may be pros and cons to the practice of using helicopter money, but this is best left to those who actually deal with money matters to advise. That said, do you really want to give the likes of Moomoo and his merry men (and let’s face it, they’re mainly men!) the right to LITERALLY PRINT MONEY??!?
 

In other money news, despite the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic, the government is still hoping to hit its target of collecting RM127 billion in taxes as well as the forecast of RM143.9 billion in 2021. We have to say that’s a lofty aim.

 

One thing we wonder, though, is whether these figures include the RM13.1 million in unpaid taxes the Shah Alam High Court has ordered Mohamad Nizar Najib to hand over to the Inland Revenue Board.

Nizar, the son of former glorious and supreme leader Najib Razak, was adjudged to have failed to pay the sum over seven years from 2011 and had applied for a stay while he appealed to the Special Commissioners of Income Tax, but the court ruled that it was established law that the sum must be paid first before any appeal can be made. 

 

Poor fellow! It’s so sad what has befallen the Najib clan. 😊

Annuar strikes back

Annuar Musa has threatened to sue Cheras MP Tan Kok Wai for claiming (without proof) that 42 KL City Hall (DBKL) plots of land had been sold off in a questionable manner in the eight short months Annuar has been FT Minister. 
 
Our man Annu has denief the claims, of course, saying not a single application has been made by DBKL to sell off any asset. Because Tan made the allegations outside the Dewan Rakyat, he’s not covered by parliamentary privilege. Needless to say, it didn’t take Annuar long to get on the phone with his lawyers.
 
DBKL has also issued a denial. Its records, however, do indicate that there are 42 privately-owned plots of land in KL where the owners have applied for “changes of use, density and plot ratio” in accordance with the Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020 (KLCP 2020). Could this have caused Uncle Tan to be confused? 
 
Meanwhile, Annuar said he would consider recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee in its probe into previous sales of DBKL land. He added that Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan (YWP), however, would remain a foundation chaired by the FT minister, whoever it may be in the future, dismissing one of the recommendations made by the PAC. 
 
The PAC had noted in its report that there was a conflict of interest in the minister’s and Kuala Lumpur mayor’s involvement in the foundation as the foundation was discovered to have purchased land from DBKL, an entity also led by the minister and mayor. 
 
Meanwhile, PAC chairman Wong Kah Woh has hit out at threats of legal action by YWP over its statements against the foundation. On Wednesday, YWP legal officer Mohd Fadzil Ab Hamid, was quoted as disputing the findings of the PAC’s probe and as saying the foundation was looking into suing the PAC

Wong defended the committee’s findings, saying the PAC conducts investigations without prejudice. He also slammed any move to initiate legal action against the PAC as an attempt to violate the integrity of Parliament

On another policy matter concerning KL, remember when we told you about DBKL having changed its regulations on alcohol licences, banning certain establishments like grocery stores from selling hard liquor? Well, now a Terengganu PAS assemblyman has suggested that other states emulate KL.

We saw that one coming a mile off, didn’t we? But here’s what really gets our goat. Our PAS friend said, and we quote, “This effort is in line with the government’s policy to create a healthy lifestyle, and a civilised and responsible society.”

Honestly man, why don’t you take your patronising shit and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine? We don’t need advice from the guys who think it’s fine for grown men to marry children

And while all this is happening, the likes of MCA and MIC – whose constituent base form the businesses affected by this booze ban – are nowhere to be seen or heard. We guess they must have sacrificed their balls as part of the deal to be part of this government. 🤷

Bits and bobs and other things

As usual, there were a number of other pieces of news we thought we would include here for you in brief:
 

  • The MySejahtera app has assisted in detecting more than 9,000 Covid-19 cases. Just over 1,500 cases were of users actually coming forward after realising that they were at risk after checking the app, while the rest were found when health authorities did contact tracing based on info on the app. 
     
  • police report has been lodged against controversial rapper Namewee over a poster of his latest movie that allegedly touches on racial sensitivities. We gotta say, the poster is online and the movie isn’t even being released in Malaysia, plus we don’t have an extradition agreement with Taiwan, where the bugger is residing. So, what’s the point? 
     
  • Now nobody can fly! Covid-19 has affected the airline industry, as we all know, and AirAsia X is no different. It reported a higher net loss – RM308.46 million – in Q3. No wonder bossman Tony Fernandes is selling off his estate in Scotland. Awww… poor widdle Tony. What’ll he do without his mansion?
     
  • Poor ol’ Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Our former PM4/7 says the recent death of close friend Khalid Abdullah has left him all alone as all his “Malay warrior” peers have gone. Sorry Doc, but this sad old man shtick, a variation of the one you pulled before GE14, is getting old. 
     
  • Surveys are opinions, which as they say, are like a**holes: everyone has one. One survey says most Malaysians feel the country is still moving in the right direction in the Covid era, another survey shows 92 percent of Malaysian youths recognise climate change as a crisis. In the first instance, what’ve these people been smoking??!? And in the second, bravo for recognising the crisis. Now what are we gonna do about it?
     
  • Umno prez Ahmad Zahid Hamidi may be one devious fellow. He has called on the government to table a motion of confidence in PM Moo for the sake of political stability. A motion of confidence, however, works basically the same as all those motions of no confidence tabled by opposition MPs. In this case, if Muhyiddin loses the motion, he’s screwed. 
     
  • Umno MP and Perikatan backbenchers club chairman Shahidan Kassim caused a stir yesterday when he said former good buddy Jibby Razak would be a traitor if he didn’t support the 2021 Budget. Shahidan, however, claimed he had actually been addressing ex-Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad at the time, but as opposition MPs had been shouting “Pekan, Pekan” (Najib’s constituency), he became flustered and said “Pekan” too. 
     
  • Meanwhile, the government has said it can’t reveal the full terms of its settlement with Goldman Sachs over the 1MDB scandal due to a confidentiality clause in its agreement with the US-based investment bank. 
     
  • The government will implement a proposal for our coppers to use bodycams to prevent misconduct and corruption. Yay, we say, but the laws must be amended to make it an offence for the cams to be turned off or it won’t matter much. 

“If your regime is not strong enough to handle a joke, then you don't have a regime.”

- Jon Stewart -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • With global Covid-19 stats now standing at 56.5 million infections and more than 1.35 million deaths, the World Health Organization has warned that Europe, which is now once more the epicentre of the pandemic, will face another six tough months
     
  • In the US, President-elect Joe Biden has discussed with the governors of all states the possibility of implementing a nationwide mask mandate. Outgoing (oh, what a lovely word) prez Donald Trump, meanwhile, is still trying to overturn election results.
     
  • Still on the US – the country has labelled exports from Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank as goods from Israel. Funny, coming from a country that has barred the entry of goods from countries like Malaysia for alleged labour violations. 
     
  • Australian special forces allegedly killed 39 unarmed prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan, with senior commandos reportedly forcing junior soldiers to kill defenceless captives in order to “blood” them for combat, a four-year investigation found. “Blooding” refers to the practice of killing so a soldier can achieve his/her first kill.
     
  • Tech giant Apple has been ordered to pay US$113 million to 34 states over its controversial practice of slowing down iPhones via operating system updates in order to conserve battery life. Will they face international ramifications as well soon? 

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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