Musings and Some Advice to the Emergency Government on Covid-19

By Wong Chen

I have been having a lot of Zoom meetings since MCO 2.0 and the Emergency started on 11th and 12th January 2021 respectively. In addition to the suspension of Parliament, my office and service centre has been deemed a “non-essential” service by the authorities. As such, our office is currently closed and will remain so until the MCO is lifted.

This situation has resulted in me conducting my work and running my office from home, operating more and more via Zoom. I have a daily Zoom meeting at 11 am, with the head of my volunteers, officers and interns. I have a once a week Zoom briefing with my volunteers on Wednesday nights. Since the MCO 2.0, I have had two Zoom meetings with MBSJ councilors and JKP community leaders.  I intend to do this on a fortnightly or monthly basis, subject to urgency and demands. The rest are meetings and conferences relating to our ongoing work on reforms, Covid-19, the economy, climate change and human rights. On average, I have four Zoom meetings daily.

In addition, my office continues to face monthly financial constraints to operate. The RM50,000 token contribution from the Selangor state for our office expenses for 2021, has yet to be banked into our accounts. The community allocation of RM250,000 for 2021 is also in limbo, but we hope to receive this next month, so that we can start some welfare assistance to the poorest in my constituency.

However, I agree that the more urgent business is to tackle and contain the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a lot that needs to be done and improved on. We are at a crisis point and the daily infection numbers are at an alarmingly constant rate. The home quarantine initiative and the formation of Covid-19 Assessment Centres (CACs) are reactive policies, not solutions. Reactive policies are caused by the failure to plan and organise. Even the basic work of contact tracing and testing is also starting to fail as community spread accelerates.

My advice to my constituents is to double up on vigilance and the best thing you can do to help Malaysia, is to adhere to personal responsibilities to social distance, stay at home, wear your mask and sanitise frequently. I stay home diligently, going out twice a week as head of my household, to buy fresh groceries.

As a rule, I do not write explicitly about politics in this column. All I will say on the matter regarding the Emergency proclamation is that I will do what needs to be done to safeguard the Federal Constitution and democracy. I am also of the strong opinion that if and when the MCO is lifted, the Emergency must simultaneously end too.

Under Emergency, the country is now in the sole control of the government. They have to self-police and practice self-accountability. As such, I have some advice that I wish to share with this Emergency government.

In order to meaningfully tackle the pandemic, the government needs to demonstrate and improve on three things; (a) leadership, (b) competency and (c) organisational skills.

Leadership means the ministers have to walk the talk, and not have separate special rules and privileges for themselves. Ministers have to demonstrate that they are in full compliance with the MCO, like everyone else. They will not be able to inspire people to follow the MCO rules and SOPs, if they openly flout the same.

On competency, the government must have ministers who are knowledgeable and who will make decisions based on science and data. In particular, the prime minister must ensure his cabinet communicates better and not indulge in pseudo-science and irrational proclamations. In particular, good and competent ministers are necessary for the following key ministries; the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the Ministry of International Trade. The need for competent ministers is even more urgent now, since all Parliamentary checks and balances are suspended.

On organisational skills, the government must ensure they must have a clear plan, and then have sufficient money and manpower to execute the plan. On planning, Members of Parliament from the Opposition are ready and willing to give constructive inputs. In the pandemic crisis of this magnitude, the government must be more receptive to other inputs so as to better refine their pandemic plans.

Once a plan is crafted, the prime minister has to have the ability to lead and ensure that the most important ministries work together as a team and not in silos. Money must be made available, either through bond issuances or short term borrowings, and finally the resources such as additional manpower must be trained, equipped with PPEs and then mobilised.

I wish the government the very best in its efforts to contain the pandemic and sincerely appeal to the ministers to consider and practice some of the advice that I have raised. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish all my constituents a Safe and Happy Chinese New Year!