And it has begun...
A blip, or our worst fears realised?
The Health Ministry has detected a new Covid-19 cluster originating at an apartment block in Cheras, and it’s believed it all began due to Hari Raya visiting. Six people have so far tested positive for the virus. All are family of the first case, or friends. In all, 120 people related to this cluster have been screened, with 76 so far testing negative and 38 still awaiting results.
Besides the tests, several outbreak control measures are being undertaken at the apartment complex, such as contact isolations as well as germ and contamination eradication activities. Health education information is also being disseminated among the residents, FT Minister Annuar Musa says.
Is this the first of an upcoming Hari Raya Covid wave? We hope not. But there were always fears that it would happen, from the moment the government announced visiting during Hari Raya Aidilfitri would be allowed.
Whether this turns out to be a one-off case or the start of something bigger remains to be seen, but will also largely depend on whether or not Malaysians stuck to the guidelines for Raya visiting. Rules like restricting visits to family members, capping the number of visitors to only 20, and visits to just the first day of the Aidilfitri celebrations were put in to avoid this situation, so lets hope folk erred on the side of caution.
At present, aside from the new Cheras cluster, things are still in the double digit range, though. Yesterday saw an increase of 20 new cases, with recoveries triple that number at 66. There were also no new deaths, leaving the fatality toll at 115 for the 11th day in a row. The new total number of infections is 7,877, with 6,470 having already been discharged for an impressive recovery rate of 82.1%.
With the possible transmission rate from Raya visiting still yet to be seen, there is no telling when Malaysia will drop to just single-digit increases in daily infections, a target which we have already missed by more than two weeks. In April, Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had said Malaysia’s daily infection rate would likely drop to single digits by mid-May. By May 19, it was clear this would not be the case, and Noor Hisham was forced to say it would happen soon, though he didn’t say when.
When we do hit that magical number (or numbers, actually), then and only then will the government roll out an exit strategy for Covid-19. Of course, says Noor Hisham, don’t expect things to go back to the way they were before the MCO. No sirree… expect stricter standard operating procedures (SOPs) and the possibility that preventive laws will be kept in place.
Speaking of SOPs, senior minister a̶n̶d̶ ̶s̶h̶i̶r̶t̶ ̶m̶o̶d̶e̶l̶ Ismail Sabri Yaakob says the gomen is working on guidelines for religious events, pasar malam and hair salons (thank the heavens!) and these will likely be finalised by the weekend. And some 6,600 daycare centres are set to reopen soon. So, basically, even though an exit strategy will only be rolled out once we hit single-digit daily increases, the government is still working on relaxing certain restrictions.
This could be an important factor, as we all know that the Malaysian economy, like every other country’s, has taken a huge hit. With the coming of the CMCO, as much as 70% of the workforce are now back at work, our Finance Minister says, but we still need a boost, and PM Muhyiddin Yassin is set to unveil a short-term economic recovery plan soon.
Oh, before we forget, Putrajaya may be working on SOPs for religious events, possibly increasing the number of people allowed at such events, but the Selangor ruler has other plans, at least for now. Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah has decreed that the suspension of daily congregational and Friday prayers will continue until June 30, subject to regular reviews.
What a fine mess
The shenanigans in Bersatu continued yesterday (as if anyone thought they wouldn’t) with a party member saying he would resign from his position as a deputy minister if it meant strengthening the party.
Deputy Works Minister Shahruddin Mohd Salleh said his love for the party was far greater than his love for (former?) chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad and president Muhyiddin Yassin. He said resigning would allow him to concentrate all his efforts on strengthening the party, though we fail to see how his resignation could possibly solve the almighty battle between Maddey and Moo.
But Shahruddin, who is Sri Gading MP, had an even more important message later in the day. He warned the Perikatan gomen (of which he is a member, mind you) to “watch out” come July when the Dewan Rakyat convenes next. There was no explanation of what he meant, but he was likely talking about the vote of no confidence to be brought against Muhyiddin by Mahathir.
Shahruddin’s warning is enigmatic for another reason, however. Did he mean it as a friendly warning, as he is a Bersatu member? Or is he a Maddey supporter, meaning his warning was a not-so-friendly one. His allegiance is questionable as he has not come out in the open, despite rumours he would announce his support of Mahathir in a joint press conference with another Bersatu Cabinet member, though this was later denied by an aide to the minister.
Meanwhile, the “Bersatu Five”, as Maddey and four others given the boot from Bersatu recently are now being called, have set their crosshairs on Muhyiddin and six Bersatu MPs who supported him. They say the Magnificent Seven (our term, lah) had breached party ethics by announcing Bersatu’s withdrawal from Pakatan Harapan without the approval of the supreme council, and so should be referred to the party’s disciplinary board.
The five are also insisting they are still Bersatu members as they had never joined another party. Not supporting Moo, they say, doesn’t mean they had left the party, either.
On May 28, it was reported that Mahathir, Maddey Jr. Mukhriz, Bersatu Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and supreme council members Maszlee Malik and Amiruddin Hamzah had their memberships nullified for apparently choosing to sit with the Opposition at the May 18 Parliament session. The decision was announced to them in letters issued by the party’s organising secretary. Mahathir turned up at Bersatu headquarters the next day challenging party leaders to personally tell him he had been expelled, but no one did so.
While all this infighting is going on, though, are we as a country going to feel the repercussions? One Umno man says it doesn’t affect our glorious national leadership, but really, who knows? After all, political stability plays an important part in ensuring foreign investments, and boy do we need these investments considering the economic mess we’re in thanks to that little thing called Covid-19.
So, whatever the outcome of this little game being played out in Bersatu, let’s just hope it doesn’t screw us over like Covid-19 has.
On the offensive
It was the second day of oral submissions at former PM Najib Razak’s SRC International trial yesterday, and the defence team began where they left off the day before by coming out swinging for the fences, to borrow an American baseball term.
They highlighted alleged inconsistencies in evidence adduced by the prosecution, from the formation of the company right up to the time the offences were allegedly committed. They said the Jibster had no involvement in setting up SRC International, then a subsidiary of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), and that it was former CEO Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil who had done so.
They also said a bank officer had testified she had received instructions to approve transactions into Najib’s accounts not from Jibby himself, but from individuals identified as SRC International CFO See Yoke Peng and Geh Choh Heng, the latter being previously identified as the right-hand man of everyone’s favourite fugitive Low Taek Jho, or Jho Low.
They also questioned why, if Jibby had wanted to pocket money from SRC International, he had taken the company out of 1MDB. Placing it under the Ministry of Finance Inc., they said, was meant to ensure greater government oversight.
Employing what we call the blur sotong defence, Bossku’s lawyers further said the RM42 million which went missing from SRC International was taken by unknown persons, arguing that this could be inferred from the involvement of numerous individuals in the outflow of the monies. So, poor ol’ Najib, basically, was just a scapegoat and not the man who took it.
They also went after former finance minister II Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah, saying his testimony should be disregarded as he had accused Najib of engineering a sexual harassment claim against him. Ahmad Husni had previously testified that he had lied to cover up for Ah Jib Gor but despite his efforts, our glorious PM6 had made up the sexual harassment claim.
Meanwhile, Najib’s trial on additional charges of money laundering in relation to SRC International, initially scheduled to commence yesterday, was postponed to make way for his other ongoing trials. These are the current SRC International trial, one involving 1MDB and another regarding alleged tampering of 1MDB financial reports.
War of the gomens
A new war, it seems, has begun between the federal government and the Penang government.
Penang CM Chow Kon Yeow has slammed Putrajaya, saying the state government is in shock after being informed the federal government has pulled the plug on the RM100 million Penang Hill cable car project. The funding for the project had initially been announced by then Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng during the tabling of the 2020 Budget in Parliament last year.
The latest announcement has been greeted with great glee by non-governmental organisations like Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM). They say the project, which was meant to connect Penang hill to the Penang Botanical Gardens, was not sustainable.
Of course, SAM and CAP would rejoice at the cancellation. When the project was first conceived, and when Chow had earlier this year said the project was to begin at year’s end, the two NGOs had voiced their opposition, calling for a comprehensive study on the environmental and social impacts the project would have.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia had also called on the state government not to repeat the mistakes of their BN predecessors, who had overdeveloped the hill. Meanwhile, the state opposition had chided the government for the project saying they should instead concentrate on solving transportation woes – a problem, which we have to point out, that BN didn’t solve despite decades of running Penang.
In any case, this cable car project was approved by a finance minister who was ex-Penang CM and sec-gen of the same party (DAP) that leads Penang now. Now that Perikatan holds Putrajaya and DAP is out of the federal government, we guess their requirements are surplus to national (and political) needs. Also, despite what Chow says about public infrastructure projects boosting the economy, the question remains if this should really be a priority at a time of belt-tightening like this.
Anyway, we’re probably gonna be hearing more about this in the coming days. Quite frankly, unless Pakatan takes back Putrajaya, we don’t see funding for the project being approved any time soon.
Drunk drivers and other stories
The debate over drink driving and what should be done about it continued yesterday with KL City Hall saying it has suspended the issuance of new liquor licences. That, of course, wasn’t a shocker, considering it was FT Minister Annuar Musa who had the day before called for the gomen to put a freeze on liquor licences.
In fact, the Housing and Local Government Ministry, under whose purview local councils fall, has said it’s mulling doing the same. And since local councils are the ones which issue liquor permits, this would be a blow to all those hoping to get their licences.
But the issue is still being hotly debated, with one MP saying that there was no evidence that freezing the issuance of licences would in any way help reduce instances of drink driving. And, another Opposition man went a step further, saying that doing such things was an infringement of the cultural rights of Sabah and Sarawak’s indigenous communities.
The problem of drink driving, of course, is an important issue. We can’t stress that enough. But is suspending liquor licences a good response? We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. It all boils down to harsher punishments, and more importantly, stricter enforcement. That’s why we support the gomen’s move to amend the Road Transport Act.
In fact, the World Health Organisation says reducing blood alcohol concentrations from 0.1g/dl to 0.05 g/dl could contribute to a 6% to 18% reduction in alcohol-related road deaths.
Also, as mentioned yesterday, critics have said that over the past few years, there have been 47 cases of drink driving. But, these statistics actually show the cases were for “Driving Under the Influence” of alcohol and drugs. That’s right, folks,. It ain’t just alcohol. Unfortunately, there is no breakdown between the two.
So, what’s the real number for alcohol-related deaths? And what are we doing about all those other bad behaviours that are causing road fatalities? You know, racing, tailgating, running red lights, etc?
Economically, stopping liquor licenses could be a problem as well, and not just for those seeking licences. Beer alone, apparently, is a RM5 billion industry, and we are apparently one of the world’s largest consumers, per capita, of alcohol.
But do these statistics even take into account alcohol purchased by tourists and other foreigners here on business trips, for instance? Last year, there were 26.1 million tourist arrivals, with a RM41.69 billion contribution to the Malaysian economy (no telling how much was spent on liquor) and while tourism has taken a major beating thanks to Covid-19, what about next year and beyond? Something to think about.
Anyhoo, a number of other things came out yesterday, so here are some of the more relevant things we thought we’d include:
- The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has opened investigations into allegations that then Attorney-General Tommy Thomas had unfrozen bank accounts belonging to a tycoon being probed for corruption after being told to do so by two top Pakatan government leaders, including then Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.
- PKR president Anwar Ibrahim has filed an application to strike out a summons filed by a lawyer over the full pardon he received for sodomising an aide.
- The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia will resume its public inquiry into the disappearances of Pastor Joshua Hilmy, a convert to Christianity from Islam, and his wife Ruth, after the CMCO is lifted.
“No science is immune to the infection of politics and the corruption of power.”
- Jacob Bronowski -
IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- US President Donald Trump has threatened to use the military to quell demonstrations being held across the country to protest the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, even as police fired rubber bullets to disperse a crowd gathered outside the White House. Former Prez Barack Obama, meanwhile, has condemned the violence which has overtaken some of these protests.
- The state of Minnesota has filed a civil rights charge against the Minneapolis police department over Floyd’s death.
- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam will visit Beijing to discuss the controversial new security law which has seen the Chinese Special Autonomous Region experience protests of its own.
- The World Health Organization and other experts say there is no evidence to support a claim by an Italian doctor that the virus which causes Covid-19 is losing its potency.
- There are now more than 6.3 million known Covid-19 cases worldwide, with more than 375,000 deaths. You can keep updated on the stats with this tracker.