Bank Negara Malaysia again slashed its overnight policy rate, bringing it down to its lowest point in a decade. It’s the latest sign our economy has taken a severe beating thanks to Covid-19. It's also, perhaps, an indication of just why the government thought it best to open the nation’s economy up again.

There’re still plenty of issues surrounding the conditional MCO, however, with employers arguing it would be too much of a strain on their finances to test all foreign workers and some state governments still unwilling to open their economies. Opinions are even divided as to whether these states have such autonomy.

And, today's BTL wouldn't be complete without mentioning the curious case of the VVIP's daughter who got off easy for breaching the MCO.

Sign of the times?

Desperate times, desperate measures?

Much has been said about the government’s decision to replace the MCO with a conditional MCO, or CMCO.
 
Whether or not it was the right thing to do, only time will tell. But for sure, it was a difficult decision to make. A lot of middle- or upper middle class folk have been castigating the government for being to cavalier about lifting restrictions, but for many Malaysians, this economic lockdown has been hell on earth with incomes drying up to practically zero and expenses piling up. 

And so, for the government it has become the worst Catch-22 situation imaginable: balancing economic safety and health concerns. Will lifting the MCO cause a surge in Covid-19 infections? Maybe. But every day the MCO had gone on would have meant somebody (or multiple bodies) getting closer to bankruptcy, starvation and desperation. So, it is really a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” for PM Muhyiddin Yassin and his merry men.
 
Perhaps we should take the news that Bank Negara Malaysia has again cut the overnight policy rate (OPR) as a good indication of just how bad a hit the economy is taking. The OPR was slashed by 50 basis points, taking it down to a new 10-year low of 2%. The OPR was first cut in January, off the back of a slump in the global economy due to the US-China trade war, then slashed again in March thanks to the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic here. 
 
Not all the government’s decisions have been on the money, but, by and large, it’s done a pretty decent job so far. That said, the country is suffering.

The manufacturing sector, which contributes to 22% of our GDP, looks scary; production loss for just the first 14 days of the MCO was forecast at almost RM65 billion, and 83% of companies are reporting a drop in export demand.

Retailers say sales for March and April were down 90%. Airlines have been badly hit by lockdowns everywhere, and many businesses here, including several hotels, have had to shut down. Tourism, which accounts for over 7% of our country’s economy. has also taken a beating. Just Melaka, Malaysia’s most history-rich state, is expected to take two years to recover.
 
So, we know just how badly the nation’s economy and, of course, our own livelihoods, are being affected. Hell, as soon as the CMCO replaced the MCO, Malaysians made a beeline for pawnshops, a sign of an ailing economy, says Captain Obvious Anwar Ibrahim (even if a pawnshop association says it wasn’t anything unusual). 
 
That said, opinions on whether the implementation of the CMCO was necessary or even a good step remains divided. Major trade associations banded together to issue a statement supporting the decision. And the chairman of this group of companies also came out to voice his support, though coming from a group that survives on a, errr… people’s lack of survival, it probably wasn’t the best thing. 
 
And while several state governments have agreed to implement the CMCO, others are still hesitant. Despite what seemed like a veiled threat from International Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali that they were opening themselves to legal suits if they didn’t agree to the CMCO (which the senior minister has since denied was a threat), PenangSabah and Selangor are sticking to their guns, saying they were more concerned about saving lives than facing lawsuits. 

One does wonder how much of this state vs federal catfight is based on genuine considerations of people’s wellbeing and how much of it is just politics. After all, the worse the national economy does, the more it will become a talking point during the next elections. Similarly, if things do get worse and cases spike again, you can be sure it will be used as a rod to hammer the Muhyiddin administration with.
 
Kedah and Kelantan have, after a slight delay, agreed to open their state economies by implementing the CMCO, while SarawakPerak and Perlis have added some minor conditions. 
 
Opinions are still also divided as to whether the states can actually decide for themselves whether or not to follow the CMCO, or modify it in any way. After all, it’s a federal gazette. A public administrative law expert says they don’t have the power, while other lawyers say they do. Perhaps the best person to listen to would be the chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Federal-State Relations, who says federal and state governments have joint power under the Federal Constitution when it comes to health issues. 
 
Regardless of where the power lies, these decisions must be horribly difficult to make. This is not just some vague, academic “country losing money” kinda thing. That RM2.4 billion we lose every day affects real people in real ways. Just ask the people in the pawnshop lines.

Much ado about migrant workers

Speaking of the MCO, in whatever version, a number of things came out yesterday which bear mentioning.
 
The biggest issue was the ruling laid out the previous day that all foreign workers in all industries, except for domestic workers, must be subjected to Covid-19 tests – the costs of which would be born by employers. The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) is insisting the government bear the costs as businesses were only just beginning operations and the RM1 billion price tag would bury them. MEF also says that since it’s the gomen’s decision, the gomen should pay. 
 
It’s something Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob doesn’t agree with, however. He says it’s necessary for Malaysia to avoid a similar situation to Singapore, now Southeast Asia’s most badly hit nation, with Covid-19 spreading rapidly among foreign workers in their dormitories. 
 
The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), meanwhile, says testing all foreign workers would be a logistical nightmare, adding that medical laboratories would be overwhelmed. Instead, a targeted approach should be used. 
 
But here’s the thing: the government has actually made foreign workers a target group for testing. More than 500 foreign workers in the Pudu area were screened yesterday as businesses began to reopen. 
 
Meanwhile, a special task force has been set up to monitor and enforce compliance of the CMCO, its members taken from the police, armed forces, Civil Defence Force, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Rela, Immigration Department, Public Works Department, Road Transport Department, National Security Council, Labour Department, Department of Occupational Safety and Health and three ministries. IGP Abdul Hamid Bador says more policemen would be assigned to the task force. 

By the way, if you’re still unsure of what the CMCO entails, this article will help you understand what changes there are from the MCO, including regulations concerning travel restrictions and attendance at funerals. There will also be no more 10pm-6am curfew for private citizens. Just don’t forget your social distancing if you’re planning to celebrate by visiting your favourite Bangsar pub, k?

No double standards, please. We're Malaysians

Perhaps one of the most talked-about stories yesterday was the court case involving Nurul Hidayah Ahmad Zahid, the daughter of former DPM and current Umno numero uno Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and her husband for violating the MCO, who got away with just a RM800 fine each. Pocket money, as former Umno big man Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor would say
 
Compare this to the student who breached MCO regulations to carry out an assignment, who was fined RM1,000. It’s a travesty that Nurul Hidayah and hubby got off so lightly. This is especially so when you compare it to arguably the most controversial case so far, that of the single mum who was given a 30-day jail sentence, even if it was later reduced to a RM1,000 fine. In fact, the woman herself has asked whether there were double standards being practiced. 
 
And who can blame her? Even if there were no double standards at play, there really should be some sort of understanding among magistrates and judges so as to ensure there is no disparity when it comes to sentencing where violations of the MCO (or CMCO now) are concerned. Surely there have been enough cases by now for members of the judiciary to take heed of when sentences are meted out? 

What makes this even dodgier is that the court barred the media from covering the case, which was supposed to be a public hearing, without giving any reasons why. And what really sticks in the craw is just how unapologetic and cocky Nurul Hidayah has been about the whole thing. She not only dared people to lodge a police report against her when she was first called out for flouting the MCO, she also later said people who didn’t know the difference between the MCO and a lockdown were stupid. And after all this – and despite pleading guilty! – she got off with the lightest of taps on the wrist. No wonder people are pissed. 
 
Anyway, on to more cheerful things. Penang is now free of Covid-19 cases, while Mont Kiara, Bangsar and Kepong have joined the list of green districts. It was also a good day as far as stats were concerned, as the number of new Covid-19 cases dipped to a new low of just 30, with 83 recoveries. However, there was one death reported, bringing the total so far to 106. The total number of infections now stands at 6,383, with 4,567 people having already been discharged for a recovery rate of 71.55%. 
 
There was good news for medical frontliners as well. Health DG Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah says, after months of working non-stop, they will be given time off to get some rest. Counselling sessions will be arranged for them should they need it. The Health Ministry is also going to use this period to restrategise and prepare in case there’s a resurgence in infections. 
 
Noor Hisham also said a Covid-19 patient at Sungai Buloh Hospital has become the first in Southeast Asia to be treated with the antiviral drug Remdesivir. The drug has been distributed to nine hospitals as the ministry attempts to recruit 100 test subjects for a World Health Organization (WHO) clinical trial to see if Remdesivir, originally developed to treat Ebola, helps in treating Covid-19. 
 
On a separate issue, Noor Hisham said the Health Ministry would cooperate with any Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) probe into an alleged RM30 million graft case. However, he refused to confirm whether the ministry was involved in awarding contracts to procure equipment for operations in the fight against Covid-19 by direct negotiation. MACC sources told Malaysiakini investigations were ongoing into several procurements, but denied officers have been arrested. Social media posts had claimed five Health Ministry officers had been detained so far, and the ministry later lodged a police report against these postings. 
 
Anyhoo, here are a few other bits of news about Covid-19 which made appearances yesterday:

  • Senior Minister Ismail Sabri has denied reports that three other areas (Taman Wilayah and Taman Desa Bakti in Selayang and Jalan Raja Bot in the Chow Kit area) had been placed under enhanced MCO (EMCO), but said there were tighter controls in place. Maybe we will place razor wire and other things, he says, but we don’t announce it. Errrr… isn’t that what you did in EMCO areas prior to this, YB? 
     
  • Seven foreign men who had been quarantined in a centre in an education institute in KL have gone missing. The seven, who had been living with others who had tested positive for Covid-19 previously, were supposed to have been under quarantine till tomorrow. So we now have seven possible spreaders of Covid-19 free amongst us. Just great. 
     
  • New MACC chief Azam Baki says he will study a proposal to delay the implementation of an amendment to the MACC Act that comes into effect on June 1. The amendment allows companies to be charged for corrupt practices, and Azam says he’s concerned as businesses are currently in a slump from the Covid-19 pandemic. This logic beggars belief. Corruption is corruption, chief. WTF does them being in a slump have to do with anything? 
     
  • Air travelers take note. It’s compulsory for anyone entering KLIA to wear face masks, even though the Health Ministry says it’s not mandatory for people to wear masks when outside. 
     
  • The Women’s Aid Organisation has called on the gomen to make more shelters available for domestic violence survivors, considering that the number of abuse cases has gone up. We couldn’t be more supportive of this. 

Non-Covid odds and ends

Some things that were not related to Covid-19 cropped up yesterday and we thought we should mention them in brief here:

  • Former PM Najib Razak’s SRC International corruption trial (yes, we haven’t forgotten about that) is set for oral submissions from June 1-3 and both the prosecution and defence have handed in almost 1,000 pages of written submissions in total to the court. Dayum, son! 
     
  • The father of firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim, who died of injuries sustained during a riot at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Subang Jaya in 2019, has submitted a representation to seek the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ stand on a committal proceeding application he had earlier filed against ex-AG Tommy Thomas. 
     
  • PKR president Anwar Ibrahim says Pakatan Harapan is open to accepting Bersatu again, but only if the party is committed to adhering to the coalition’s reform agenda. Of course, you would. How else can you get back to Putrajaya, barring another general election? 
     
  • Petronas has made two deepshore oil discoveries in waters off Mexico. Good news. Now if only oil prices would go up. 
     
  • A banker and a foreign student were among 17 people arrested for selling drug-laced vape liquids on three e-commerce sites. The liquids contained marijuana and ketamine. 

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

- Lao Tzu -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The UK is now the country with the second highest Covid-19 death toll at 32,000, overtaking Italy. Globally, there are more than 3.61 million infections and 253,000 deaths. 
     
  • Meanwhile, the UK’s leading epidemiologist, who advised the government on its coronavirus response, has resigned from his government post. Professor Neil Ferguson had apparently broken the very lockdown rules he helped shape. 
     
  • The argument over just where and how Covid-19 originated continues. The WHO says US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claims it came from a Chinese lab were “speculative” and is calling for a science-based inquiry. That’s not stopping the US from pressuring its allies to join it in blaming China for the virus. Meanwhile, the US is planning to disband its coronavirus task force, despite models predicting an increase in the country’s death toll.
     
  • Though Vietnam has managed to crush the Covid-19 outbreak there with brutal efficiency, a big challenge awaits one of Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economies – reviving the country’s financial fortunes
     
  • Philippine broadcast company ABS-CBN has been forced off the air by the government. The news organisation had been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drugs, a violent campaign that has seen thousands killed. Here is a timeline of the Duterte vs ABS-CBN battle to help you better understand what has gone on. 

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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