Unfortunately, we finally cross the 2k-mark when it comes to daily Covid-19 cases. And while it's mainly due to that damned 'Teratai' cluster involving Top Glove employees, the company isn't showing signs of slowing down operations.

In other news, there're more Budget 2021 shenanigans (as usual), there's a bit of a ruckus in Parliament over the removal of cabotage exemptions, and a shootout at the Malaysia-Thailand border has left one policeman dead.

Top Glove tops infections

Will we ever learn?

It was another record yesterday, as the third wave of this pandemic continues to rage in Malaysia.

For the first time, Malaysia’s daily Covid-19 numbers exceed 2,000, coming in at 2,188 (the previous record of 1,884 lasted only 24 hours). The cumulative case count is close to 60,000 (58,847 to be exact) and another day of four-figure increases could take us past that, for sure. 

The number of active cases also hit a new high at 14,353. With another 4 deaths, the death toll stands at 341. On the somewhat bright side, there were 1,673 recoveries.

Here are some more of our Covid numbers: 

  • There are now 167 active clusters in the country, while the ‘Bah Layangan’ cluster in Labuan was declared ended yesterday.
     
  • A total of 119 clusters – a third of all 334 clusters reported so far – are workplace clusters. Of these, 83 of these are still active.
     
  • Up to 28% of all Covid-19 deaths have occurred even before the patient made it to hospital

Back to the daily infections, Selangor again topped the charts with 1,623 cases with the Teratai cluster the biggest culprit (1,511 cases). If you recall (if not, takpe, you can refer to our summary yesterday), Teratai is a work cluster involving rubber glove-making giant Top Glove.

Majority of the cases originated from Top Glove’s worker dormitories. Already there are an eye-watering 4,036 positive cases linked to this cluster, of which 3,846 are unfortunate migrants. Yet, the cluster continues to expand daily. Remember, we’ve been told the virus has already spread outside the factory workers’ circle.

Top Glove has said it’s committed to containing the outbreak and has so far closed 16 factories in Klang, where the outbreak has occurred (it’s been instructed to close all 28 factories in Klang in stages for screening). On the flip side, we’ve also been told it’s ramping up production at its factories outside of Klang.

Ostensibly, this is to meet the demand for gloves. Sure, but we’re sure that’s not the only reason. After all, the company’s shares did take a tumble.  

Top Glove’s already profited from the pandemic. Just spitballing here, but would it kill them to take a two-week break, lay low for a bit? We can only hope stringent SOPs are in place to ensure workers’ health is the #1 priority. The last thing anyone needs is another Top Glove cluster.

In related news, our peeps in gomen may ask the Agong to declare more emergencies – this time in Gerik (in Perak) and Bugaya (in Sabah), to postpone by-elections and curb any potential spread of the coronavirus, like in Batu Sapi.

For now, the Election Commission has said by-elections for the two constituencies would go on

Incidentally, a bunch of lawyers in Sarawak have come up with a suggestion to amend the Federal Constitution so that the state elections, due next year, can also be postponed due to the pandemic. Now how often would you agree with lawyers? 😊 

Not again?

Meanwhile, there was a ruckus in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday when some MPs kicked up a fuss that Frog King Keningau MP Jeffrey Kitingan was in Parliament when he was supposed to be under quarantine! Say what now?

Apparently, the STAR MP was supposed to have been under quarantine till today after returning from Sabah. After much yelling (and cries of “double standards”), Speaker Azhar Harun eventually told Jeffrey to leave the hall and stay away until further clarification from the Health Ministry. 

Good ol’ Jeff. Turns out he was given an early release. SOP Scmopy right?

One of the MPs who kicked up the biggest fuss was Warisan’s Sepanggar MP Azis Jamman who, as a Sabah MP, said he even had to skip a family member’s funeral because of the two-week quarantine ruling. You gotta love his sarcasm when he asked whether gomen ministers are immune to Covid-19

Turns out Azis need not worry anymore. The Health Ministry has announced that people returning from Sabah need no longer quarantine if they test negative when swabbed three days before departing the state.

Isn’t this test-negative-free-to-go modus operandi what led to the influx in Covid cases from Sabah after the elections there in the first place? What’s happened to the 14-day coronavirus incubation period?

We have a bad feeling about this.

Of rows and controversies

A couple of other interesting things came out of Parliament yesterday, both linked to controversies. 

Remember the issue over the removal of cabotage exemptions for foreign vessels involved in undersea cable repair? The one that got global tech companies Google, Facebook and the likes mad at us? You can refer to our newsletter yesterday for the deets.

Responding to the kerfuffle, Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong has said the removal of the exemption was in the best interests of local companies as this would reduce the dependence on foreign vessels and develop local expertise. 

Our man Wee then proceeded to get into a war of words with predecessor Anthony Loke, who approved the exemption in the first place back in March last year zaman Pakatan Harapan. 

There were much back and forth between the two men, during which Loke called Wee a liar p̶a̶n̶t̶s̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶f̶i̶r̶e̶. The long and short of it is that Lokey said there were no Malaysian vessels currently capable of doing the work while Wee said otherwise.  

Actually, Abang Loke, previous reports have stated there’s one (yes, just one!) ship capable of doing the work. Just how good that ship is, however? We don’t know.

Former communications and multimedia minister Gobind Singh Deo then joined the fray, saying WeeWee misunderstood the issue. The exemption, he said, had been put in place because telcos had urged the previous Pakatan gomen to speed up underwater cable repairs so they can invest in building data centres in Malaysia.

Building Malaysian expertise could be done while allowing foreign vessels to repair underwater cables without any cabotage, he added.

The upshot of it all, though, was that Wee said foreign ships could still be brought in if local companies are found incapable of doing so. Tl;dr – in true Malaysia boleh spirit, the gomen is giving the Malaysian Shipowners Association (Masa) a chance to see if it can first handle things. 

We gotta side with the Pakatan boys on this one. Why not develop local capabilities, ensure it’s up to the task and then end the cabotage exemption? Wee’s way would be like putting the cart before the horse and risking our Internet infrastructure. 

PAC’s MACC wish

Anyhoo, on to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The committee, in a report, has said it wants the MACC to probe middlemen who allegedly lobbied the home minister for special approval of migrant worker permits.

The report, a follow-up to a federal audit for 2018, said that combined with approvals made by a select committee, there had been 512,315 special approvals from 2016 to 2018, which is a sharp increase from the 416,510 approvals made under the Immigration Department’s Job Clearing System quota. 

During the time in question, Umno prez Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was deputy prime minister and home minister. FYI, Zahid had in 2018 denied he or his family members had profited from the tracking of Nepali migrant workers. But we also have to point out that Zahid’s brother, three years earlier, had a firm which was involved in talks with Dhaka and Putrajaya to provide a management system for 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers Malaysia intended to bring in via a business-to-business system. Just sayin’, ya! 

Back to the present, and the PAC has recommended that the Home and Human Resources ministries set up an integrated system to manage recruitment of foreign workers. It has also proposed the ministries determine applications for foreign worker quotas together-gether. 

In a separate matter, the PAC also stated it had found immigration detention depots unsuitable for children being held there. Well no s**t, Sherlock. We could have told you that. In fact, they are probably not suitable for adults, even! 

Let’s face it, we don’t even look after documented workers properly (allegedly, allegedly!). What more undocumented workers who have been detained by the Immigration Department.

All things Budget

The Dewan Rakyat seemed to be the centre of all sorts of things yesterday, with the debate of the recently tabled 2021 Budget, of course, the main focus of proceedings.

Reports have said that voting on the budget could make or break PM Moo’s claims to legitimacy. It will certainly be close, we feel, despite the King’s call for politicians to quit horsing around and just support the budget for the sake of the battle against Covid-19.

According to this little piece, PM Muhyiddin Yassin and gang are three votes down, giving it 110 votes to the opposition’s 108. The three votes come from the death of Gerik MP Hasbullah Osman, Kinabatangan MP Bung Moktar Radin still being under quarantine and Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who has been critical of the Perikatan Nasional gomen, insisting he’ll abstain from the budget debate. On that last bit, it is still unclear how Ku Li will vote, or if he will vote at all. 

Don’t forget, however, that the opposition is also down a man, as Batu Sapi MP Liew Vui Keong has also passed away. But what this all means is that if all MPs keep to the party lines, the budget will pass, but only barely. Even if Ku Li decides to vote against the budget, Moo still has enough to carry the vote.

BN ministers and deputy ministers have declared that they will support Muh, for now. And that includes, we surmise, the budget. The caveat, though, is that support will only be until the next general election, which they say should be called as soon as the public health situation improves.

Of course, this comes just a day after BN had said it will only support Budget 2021 if certain conditions – an extension on loan repayment moratorium, and withdrawal up to RM10,000 from EPF Account 1 – are met.

But first voting on the budget, which is supposed to be done tomorrow, may not take place. Government sources have said that many ministries have yet to wrap up the debate, so voting on the budget could be postponed

So, by the time it comes to a vote, Bung Moktar could be back, strengthening Muhyiddin’s position further. We guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Anyways, here are some other Parliament news:

  • Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has told the Dewan Rakyat that his ministry was mulling bringing back the National Service programme

    It’s a bit weird that, at the height of a pandemic, we’re thinking of such nonsense, and former youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman thinks so too.
     
  • Education Minister Mohd Radzi Md Jinin has rubbished allegations a project worth RM1.92mil to produce a total of 800 educational TV programmes was awarded via direct tender, saying an open tender process was used. 

A fatal shootout and other news

The country awoke yesterday to news that one General Operations Force (GOF) police officer was killed and another wounded in a shootout with drug smugglers along the Malaysian-Thai border in Perlis. 

The slain cop was Corporal Baharuddin Ramli, 54, and his wounded colleague was Corporal Norihan Tari. Both were from the GOF’s Battalion 3 (Senoi Praaq), Northern Brigade.

The Senoi Praaq is arguably the most famous of GOF battalions. The battalion, made up of Orang Asli, has a storied past, which you can read about here

The two police officers had been on an intelligence-gathering mission when they stumbled on smugglers. Since they were not on patrol, they were armed lightly, with only their pistols. 

When the shootout occurred, Baharuddin was hit and told Norihan to ride for help. Norihan managed to make it to other colleagues before himself collapsing from three gunshot wounds. Baharuddin was discovered dead at the scene. 

Six smugglers were later arrested. Four Thais were arrested in Thailand following the incident, including three who were wounded by the two GOF men. Two others were nabbed in Malaysia. There were believed to have been 13 smugglers in the group involved in the firefight. 

Hamid, meanwhile, has said Baharuddin would be accorded a funeral with full police honours. His widow called him a national hero, and we’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’d disagree. 

Meanwhile, here are a few other things that came out yesterday:

  • The World Bank has released a report on Malaysia, saying that as it transitions into an ageing society this year, it will still be able to reap socio-economic dividends by fostering productivity, protecting incomes and building an inclusive aged care system. It has, however, recommended that the age of withdrawal for the EPF be gradually increased to 65. 
     
  • Here’s more evidence of Malaysia’s ageing society. The Statistics Department says a decrease in “live births” has seen the number of children in Malaysia drop from 9.32 million in 2019 to 9.24 million this year. 
     
  • Former armed forces chief General (Rtd) Hashim Mohd Ali has come out hard in opposition to the ban on the sale of liquor at certain shops in KL, saying that while he is not supporting alcohol consumption, the gomen must respect the rights of non-Muslims
     
  • Ex-Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng has claimed he warned his bosses not to do business with everyone’s favourite fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, nama glamer Jho Low, as Low couldn’t be trusted. 

  • Bersih 2.0 has slammed plans by the Pahang government to create five unelected seats for the state legislative assembly, calling it an “insidious attempt to usurp democracy”. It said this would give the MB unchecked power as he would have control of 80% of the assembly. 

  • Senator Ras Adiba Radzi, a veteran of more than 30 years in the media industry, has been appointed Bernama’s first female chairperson

“Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.”

- Ambrose Bierce -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The world moved closer to the 60 million case mark as global stats show 59.3 million Covid-19 cases and almost 1.44 million deaths. But the search for a vaccine continues, as AstraZeneca has said it’ll ensure doses are available at cost and Russia announced its Sputnik V vaccine is 95% successful
     
  • Purdue Pharma LP has pleaded guilty to criminal charges over the handling of its addictive prescription painkiller OxyContin, capping a deal with federal prosecutors to resolve an investigation into the drugmaker’s role in the US opioid crisis.
     
  • US President-elect Uncle Joe Biden has formally introduced his first picks for his Cabinet, including Avril Haines, the first female national intelligence director, and Alejandro Mayorkas, the first Latino homeland security chief. 
     
  • Twin explosions in the Afghan province of Bamiyan has left 14 people dead and at least 45 others injured. Twelve of those who died were civilians, the other two being traffic cops. 
     
  • Social media influencer and dancer Charli D’Amelio is the first person to gain 100 million followers of TikTok. She’s 16!

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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