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Friday, April 30, 2021

100 days of emergency


On April 22, 2021, it was reported that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong had granted an audience to the Committee for Ending the Emergency Declaration, a group pushing for the end to the state of emergency.

The group had earlier convened (above) at the Istana Negara to request for an audience with the king to convey alleged negative sentiments from the public over the proclamation of emergency.

To recap, on Jan 11, 2021, the Agong had consented to a proclamation of emergency, after having been satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security, economic life and public order of the federation is threatened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The proclamation was made pursuant to Article 150(1) of the Federal Constitution and takes effect from Jan 11 to Aug 1, 2021.

In his speech following the declaration of the emergency, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the emergency was necessary as the government “…needs to have certain powers to ensure that this pandemic can be curbed more effectively and the health services provided to the people are not crippled...”

Further in his speech, the PM listed several security powers needed to effectively deal with the pandemic. Firstly, the government needed powers to take over private assets, such as private hospitals, for the Covid-19 response. 

Secondly, the government needed to confer enforcement powers to military personnel to enforce movement control and SOPs. 

Thirdly, the government needed to increase the punishments provided under the Prevention of Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988.

Yet from the start, the government’s reasonings have been met with cynicism. Many say that the government’s move to advise the Agong is political in nature and that the PM wanted to save his government, which was fast losing its parliamentary majority at that time.

In response, the government used various state apparatuses to convince the people of the need for the emergency. 

Official correspondences from the government must now carry the tagline “Kerajaan Prihatin: Darurat Memerangi Covid-19”. State media such as RTM and Bernama repeat the official government spiel on the emergency.

But has the emergency been effective to deal with the pandemic?

It has now been more than 100 days since the proclamation of emergency. On the first day of the emergency, the country saw 2,232 new cases, with 138,224 total cases and 555 deaths.

On the 100th day of the emergency, there were 2,340 new cases, with 381,813 total cases and 1,400 cumulative deaths.

At the time of writing, the Health Ministry reported 3,332 new cases with 15 more deaths.

The data shows that the emergency has not had much of an impact in dealing with the pandemic.

What the "emergency powers" that the PM said was needed? The government has not taken over private premises, and when asked, the PM said that this was because there was "good cooperation" from the private sector. 

In fact, private hospitals have since early last year communicated to the government that they are willing to assist.

As for the military, apart from the odd one or two soldiers assisting the police during roadblocks, their presence on the ground has been minimal.

However, the government did increase the compound and penalty for non-compliance with the movement control order (MCO) and the various SOPs. 

Individuals can be fined up to RM10,000, while corporations up to RM50,000. But even with these stringent measures, we have not seen the cases subsiding.

All this begs the question; are these emergency powers needed in the first place?

The government has had one year facing this pandemic. It is not as if the coronavirus appeared yesterday. We have been living with this virus for more than a year.

The government should have foreseen that things may become this bad, and made the necessary arrangements to prepare for it. 

Laws and measures that need to be enacted or implemented should have been done last year, when Parliament was sitting.

Instead, the government is using its own inability to plan properly as justification for this emergency.

More than three months after the proclamation of emergency, it is time that we take a hard look at whether the emergency is needed at all. - Mkini

SYAHREDZAN JOHAN is a civil liberties lawyer and political secretary to Iskandar Puteri MP Lim Kit Siang.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT

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