Up in the air – the big Malaysian disconnect

Pic: Oh My Perak Facebook

The heading of a Malaysiakini report yesterday, “Heli lands at Padang Ipoh ‘without clearance’ to pick up food for KL customer”, and its contents reflect the many ills that have afflicted our nation as a whole and in particular, its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also reflects the serious disconnect between the haves and have nots; the rich and the poor; the affluent and impoverished; and the moneyed and the moneyless.

But what transpired in Ipoh yesterday does not justify nor validate the broad divide between the two.

It appeared to be a case of “do it and be damned” and face the consequences later. How else would you describe the audacity of landing a helicopter (without permission) on one of the last remaining hallowed turfs and greenery in Ipoh? 

It would have certainly been permissible in an emergency or when it is a matter of life and death. But it is an unequivocal “no” when it comes to satisfying the hunger pangs and cravings of a few.

To dismiss it as a spur of the moment would be a fallacy. What can be gleaned from news reports was that the operation was planned, prepared and executed to the T.

The food was pre-ordered and pre-paid – the restaurant was told to prepare 36 packets of rice, chicken, salted egg and beef. And it was then delivered to the door of the helicopter.

It was not just a case of one rich (and perhaps famous) satisfying the cravings for his or her favourite meal. Neither was it a case of thrift and paying little for good and tasty food. 

On the contrary, it was extravagance – forking out RM10,000 in transport charges (to charter the helicopter) to pick up packets of food from Ipoh and deliver them to a designated drop point.

It was not just a case of displaying opulence. Neither was it lunch for a high-powered meeting of the board of directors and aides.

It was arrogance personified and defiance of laws, rules and regulations. It was showing scant regard for procedures that are in place to restrict the movement of people and stop the spread of Covid-19.

It cannot be said that it was a dare or a game of “catch me if you can”. The success of the operation must have prompted the organiser to pump fists in the air and thump the chest to be able to pull off an audacious task and in the process taunt authority.

There is no funny side to this and no one will find it amusing. The Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) said the helicopter was only cleared for landing at the Sultan Azlan Shah Airport. Was it then a diversion of the flight plan which was submitted before take-off?

Perak police chief Mior Faridalatrash Wahid was quoted by Utusan Malaysia as saying the helicopter landed between 9.55am and 10.15am and that it did not have permission to land on Padang Ipoh.

Let them eat cake

We are not pontificating on how those endowed with an enormous amount of wealth should spend their money and neither are we specifying how they should flaunt their wealth. 

But with the country ravaged by a pandemic that has caused more than 7,000 deaths and total Covid-19 cases nearing the million mark, it would be a gross understatement to state it was wrong timing.

At a time when white flags are being raised by the poor and needy, such a show of extravagance cannot even be seen as a futile and fruitless effort to lend credence to the prime minister’s claim that the “kitchens are full of supplies”.

Malaysians use 'White Flag Campaign' to convey distress during COVID-19  lockdown
Pic: DNA India

But sarcasm aside, this whole shindig has left a bitter taste in the mouths of most Malaysians. At a time when even a kilo of rice is beyond many, such a display of supposed height of enrichment and total abuse of wealth can be nauseating.

When one is fined RM5,000 for going to buy groceries from Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur, across the road to Kampung Kayu Ara in Petaling Jaya – a distance of 4km – what else can be said of an hour’s helicopter ride to Perak to pick up packed meals?

The transgressions by VVIPs including ministers have been pooh-poohed with paltry fines, but what is an RM2,000 fine to one whose superior food delivery service by air cost five times more than that?

R NADESWARAN is a veteran journalist who writes on bread and butter issues.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Mr Prime Minister, Can I Advise You Something?

Malaysia Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin Vows to Fight Corruption -  Bloomberg

“I think if we go to the ground, we will probably find the kitchens of homes to be full (with supplies). I don’t mean this is the case for everyone, that’s why we have a registration system so that distribution can be fair.” – Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin

Your acidic words must have hit the hearts of millions of Malaysians in these difficult times, especially those who have lost their jobs and have no source of income. To conclude that the needy are involved in a game of deception is the unkindest cut of all from no less than Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

I am still wondering what made you utter those words. It is unbecoming of any politician, let alone a sitting prime minister. It could be a clear sign that you are either naïve and ignorant or being misled by your coterie of hangers-on and cronies who may not have gone to the ground. Perhaps their minds are tuned and fixated on telling you what you would like to hear.

Your scathing comments lacked empathy and citizens were quick to quip that “maybe you live in a different world”. Klang MP Charles Santiago’s remarks were more scornful: “I think we have a delusional prime minister who is quite divorced from what’s happening on the ground.” Rightly or wrongly, many Malaysians agree with this assertion.

The kitchens filled with supplies you talked about may be those of your party members or the political elite or those who live in upmarket neighbourhoods like Bukit Damansara or Bukit Tunku. Of course, they have different tastes and traits like wearing an RM100,000 watch, using an RM120 face mask, owning an Alphard (as a second car), and sending their children, not to the neighbourhood tadika, but to a Montessori in France.

Sir, have you or members of your family ever gone to bed on an empty stomach? You should also be reminded that the political elite never had experienced empty stomachs and had never been subjected to surviving on a meal of only bread and tap water.

Every day, several thousands of empty stomachs are filled, thanks to contributions from fellow Malaysians from all walks of life. For the hungry, food did not drop from the sky, nor did they get food from the government. They were identified by the white flags they raised.

This is not politics where you keep denying and passing the buck, hoping that people will forget the transgressions soon enough. The government of which you are the leader has a real problem in its hands. By brushing it aside and pooh-poohing it with rhetoric is not going to make the problem go away.

Mr Prime Minister, you were also quoted as saying that the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry has a record of those who need assistance but these records are not up to date.

If aid has indeed been given, why are there long queues at soup kitchens and service centres run by individuals and charity organisations? In times of restricted movement of people, how and where does one register for such aid?

Even then, the ministry, for lack of a better phrase, does not have a good record when distributing food items to the needy. Last year, despite being allocated RM100 for each pack, what was delivered to residents in Seremban were packs with items worth less than RM35.

Sir, you were quoted as saying: “Most of the target groups, be they from the M40, B40 or the T20 households, were affected by the pandemic as they may have lost their jobs, cannot run their business, so we give them aid.”

What aid has been accorded to businesses? They have been clamouring for some easing of restrictions so that they can carry out their business activities, but this plea has fallen on deaf ears.

In Cameron Highlands, tonnes of vegetables are going to waste every day because the farmers are unable to leave their homes to harvest their produce. Elsewhere, restaurants and coffee shops are closing down and thousands have become unemployed.

Not a day passes without one sector or industry pleading for help. The small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have been severely hit and despite assurances by all and sundry, they continue with their pleas. Ditto for mall operators and retailers.

Mr Prime Minister, you can no longer rely on your ministers or your aides to give you accurate feedback on what is happening on the ground. The time has come for you to pound the streets and get a first-hand look at the issues and problems.

Please do so unannounced, sans the fanfare and protocol. Otherwise, it will be a repeat of what happened at the Klang General Hospital, where the “bad” side of what was really happening was hidden and kept away from your entourage.

And finally, providing constructive criticism of the prime minister and the government does not make me unpatriotic or a lesser Malaysian.

R NADESWARAN is a veteran journalist who writes on bread and butter issues.

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

Waffles and drivels after a prickly durian feast

Yesterday, Deputy Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat Rashid Hasnon joined the ranks and became a member of the exclusive group of VVIPs who breached provisions of the movement control order (MCO).

He was not exactly caught with his pants down but literally with his mask off after he made a trip to a dusun durian (durian orchard) with his rombongan (entourage). He then made a futile attempt at justifying that wrongdoing – a prerequisite for joining this elite group.

After doggedly claiming the video of him and his coterie feasting on durians was made before the MCO last year, he was caught out by amateur sleuths.

Grudgingly, Rashid (above) admitted to attending a durian feast recently but not before several doses of unpalatable excuses.

“I apologise for the confusion. When the media contacted me to ask about the video of me at the (durian) orchard, I answered without seeing the video first,” he said in his apology note.

Like many other politicians, it comes with an apology and an offer to cooperate and, of course, a reason for the breach which should be taken with a generous amount of salt.

In what appears to be a qualified confession-cum-apology-cum-remorse, it started with a bang – shoot from the hip first and worry about the consequences later.

The “I did not do it” was initially used by his aides but as evidence emerged with the video clip being analysed frame-by-frame, the denial no longer held water. Running away from the truth became a mission impossible.

Like minister Mustapha Mohamed who was checking out the menu in a restaurant in Jeli, our deputy speaker claimed he was doing likewise. He had visited an orchard that was facing difficulties during this current MCO.

But the untouchable number one is Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali who went to Turkey on a holiday. His party leaders claimed that his lawatan sambal belajar (visit and learn) resulted in RM82 billion Turkish investments in Malaysia.

Rashid said: “Once I arrived at the orchard, its owner served durians to us. I ate a bit while discussing with the orchard owner about aid measures that can be given.”

Yes, there are connoisseurs of crustaceans among the ranks of our wakil rakyat or even ministers who would love to go back to their favourite restaurant to discuss the owner’s problems over a lobster thermidor meal. There are also many who can claim to be in watering holes to provide (unsolicited) advice over a tipple.

But how long will such charades go on? While ordinary folk are asked to stay home and not to leave the house unless absolutely necessary, those with YB affixes to their name seem to (mis)use their position and rank for personal gain. The SOPs are wantonly breached.

We are ready to call his bluff. If indeed there was a need for discussion with the orchard owner, why a rombongan for the durian feast? Were they there in their capacity as “durian tasters”?

What will happen next? The whole situation can be read like a book. The police will open investigation papers, submit them to the Attorney General’s Chambers, and, in all probabilities, a paltry fine for selected members of the entourage.

In a previous column, I remarked: “The disparity and the methodology used in the quantum (of fines), especially for VIPs, compared with Joe Public is apparent. Certainly, there needs to be some rules or guidelines so that there is uniformity, irrespective of the offender’s status.

“No one is above the law is an over-used cliche. But it is a highly accepted principle in law that those in office should be held to a higher standard of compliance.

“Then, shouldn’t the offending VIPs get the full brunt of the law instead of a slap on the wrist?”

I would like to propose Rashid be prosecuted in a court of law, just like kindergarten teacher Lisa Christina. I am sure many like-minded Malaysians would support this. The magistrate would certainly be interested in hearing his side of the story.

By the way, can he continue to preside over proceedings in the Dewan Rakyat when it sits again? My humble opinion: Mr Deputy Speaker, you have lost all moral authority to sit on that chair or even preside over a village court or tribunal.

R NADESWARAN says the fines imposed on VVIPs are not a deterrent and some continue to treat the MCO with utter contempt. Comments: [email protected]

*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.

This article first appeared on Malaysiakini

COMMENT | Time to convert flat notes to good music

Restaurant ordered to close for not complying with SOPs
Photo courtesy of BERNAMA

The poignant albeit distressing message sent out by a publican in Petaling Jaya on Monday to regulars said:

“It has never been our intention to break the law as we are licenced to serve both food and liquor. Sadly, we are as confused as all of you about the government’s announcement about the SOPs on pubs serving food.
“This time they’ve included eateries serving liquor as ‘no-go zones’ liable to a RM10,000 fine if breached. In light of this and to not expose our customers as well as ourselves to such harsh fines, we will be closed until such time there is some clarity as to how we can operate. Please keep us in your thoughts as we navigate these uncertain times together.”

In a response to this message, a publican in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur replied: “The police are confused too. They visited my pub/restaurant two times on Sunday night checking SOPs but when we queried them on the latest announcement, they said they didn’t know.

“The government is giving us immense issues. Customers called us on the latest announcements if they can come. They, too, are afraid. Business is really down. Thousands of livelihoods are at risk – very frustrating.”

Such confusion has arisen for a simple reason – an estimated 100,000 police personnel and enforcement officers from other agencies have varying interpretations of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) under the various movement control orders.

This has led to dissatisfaction in Malaysians who were issued compound notices, reasoned Bukit Aman Internal Security and Public Order director Abd Rahim Jaafar.

“We can’t deny that when everyone has a different understanding of the law, there are bound to be issues. We are in the process of educating our officers regarding the SOPs during this MCO,” he was quoted as saying in Mingguan Malaysia on Feb 7.

Today, after more than 40 days since then, it appears that there has been little or nothing done to educate the enforcement authorities on the various clauses and their interpretations.

To add to the woes of operators, local authority enforcement officers seem to interpret the law in their own way – although it may sound ridiculous. They have interpreted “entertainment” to include piped music!

While there is a requirement for an entertainment licence for performances by live bands or musicians, it is absurd to require a licence for piped music to enhance the ambience of an eatery.

It even got more ridiculous – some restaurant operators were ordered to dim the interior lights when liquor is served.

The mother of all the cockamamie decisions was made last year when officials from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) ordered the closure of and sealed the Long Bar of the Royal Selangor Club for supposed breaches but issued no notices.

At midnight, they returned on a clandestine visit to remove the tapes which they had used to barricade the entrance and exit.

The irony was that they even sealed an outlet that was never open in the first place. They never explained nor clarified their “double action”.

The episodes and encounters that individuals and groups have faced are circulating on social media which leads to the ultimate question: Are these subtle efforts by certain quarters to impose their values on others and if the enforcement officers have taken on the added responsibility of being “moral police”?

Some commentators on social media have argued that this is so and described it as a “backdoor” effort to put an end to the after-work sojourn to the pub which is prevalent in some sectors of the community.

They argue that it started with DBKL freezing new applications for liquor licences last year. Some also allege orders to breweries compelling them to stop production.

Then there were the remarks by the prime minister in September announcing that the economy has begun to recover following the government’s reopening of almost all sectors.

This excluded pubs and nightclubs, with the prime minister adding (supposed to have been said in jest) that he felt it may be a good thing if they do not open at all, reportedly to cheers from some in the crowd.

Hence, the question now is when restaurants that also sell liquor are allowed to operate, why the reluctance to lift the ban on pubs?

If the same SOPs like registering on MySejahtera and social distancing is applied to pubs, shouldn’t they be allowed to operate?

Adil Johan, a research fellow at UKM’s Institute of Ethnic Studies says the decision to keep the pub and nightclub industry on lockdown is an example of a decision made with a low-level of tolerance for our cultural and economic diversity.

Malaysiakini quoted Adil as saying that Malaysia needs to acknowledge that the pub and nightclub industry is not just a place where non-Muslims get drunk and behave rowdily.

“In fact, these venues are very important spaces for networking and maintaining good social ties among Malaysians. It is also where many Malaysian musicians and entertainers, both Muslims and non-Muslims, earn an honest living to entertain the clientele of these venues,” he said.

The multiplier effects of the ban are showing. Bar staff, cooks, watchmen, and delivery drivers are included in the long line of those whose livelihoods have been affected. Top of the list are musicians who have had zero income for one year.

Every time an announcement is made, entertainers hope that it will be music to their ears, but what they have been getting in the past are just flat notes.

*Views expressed here are the writer’s own

‘Bus only’ rule for interstate travel borders on absurdity

COMMENT | Are you confused about the requirements for interstate travel announced by Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Tuesday? You should be because they make little sense for holidaymakers. The process appears to be a chore more than preparations for a leisurely outing.

The regulation that interstate travel is only allowed through registered travel agencies under the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry (Motac) is a damper to promoting domestic tourism.

To add more woes to the tourism industry, he said travel agencies must use tour vehicles registered with the ministry such as tour buses. Tourism activities using privately-owned vehicles are still prohibited.

In all our domestic travel, we have never used a travel agent to book bus tickets. The last we checked, there is no such requirement for KTM either. Are MAS and Air Asia registered with Motac as travel agencies? This means travelling by air or rail is a no-no. So, let’s for argument’s sake concede and ask: What do we do if we want to spend a weekend in Port Dickson?

We checked with two travel agents in the Klang Valley and both said that they do not arrange for bus tickets for the Petaling Jaya-Port Dickson route.

They suggested that I go to the terminal in Bandar Tasik Selatan on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur and buy bus tickets from bus operators licenced by Motac.

Now, I have to jump into a Grab or take a taxi which will cost me RM40 both ways. Why don’t you make bookings online, you may ask? While it can be done for longer distances and other holiday destinations, there are none to Port Dickson.

Even if there are, we would have to pay for travel to the pick-up destination.

But the travel agents did offer to make hotel bookings for us but we usually stay at the Port Dickson Yacht Club or the Port Dickson Golf Club which we can arrange directly as we find them convenient.

It will be rather odd for people staying in border towns like Tanjung Malim, Gemas, or Tampin. Does someone staying in Tampin, Negri Sembilan have to take a Motac-registered bus to Melaka? What is the process for someone staying in Tanjung Malim who wants to travel to Kuala Kubu Baru for a round of golf?

Similarly, why can’t we choose to take the Electric Train Service (ETS) from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh? Or for that matter, fly to Penang? Answers must be forthcoming for this ‘bus only’ ruling.

The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) Malacca chapter chairperson Goh Hock Gin said that although the move is seen as only benefitting travel agents, the consolation is that efforts are being made to help revive the tourism sector in stages.

“It is a good start and could control tourists’ movement and help in tracing them if there was an outbreak of the Covid-19 infection among the tourists, he added.

But Malacca Tourism Association president Madelina WL Kuah disagrees. She pointed out the real problem – the requirements imposed on tourists are burdensome and costly as they would have to use the services of travel agents, adding that movement was also quite restrictive compared to being allowed to use their own vehicles.

The failure to allow the use of one’s own transport is an impediment to revitalising the tourism industry which is in the doldrums. While this arrangement has worked well during festive periods when masses travel on their balik kampung, it is hardly the answer when it comes to the weekends or short trips.

Isn’t it ridiculous for someone staying in Sungai Besar, Selangor who wants to go across the river to Teluk Intan being compelled to buy a ticket from a travel agent (if there are any selling such tickets)?

Wouldn’t he or she be disgusted if there are only stage buses and no Motac-registered buses plying the route?

This may sound trivial but when the government expects us to go by the book, then it should have looked into all aspects of such arrangements before making the announcement.

While right-thinking Malaysians accept the ‘soft landing’ approach taken by the government on the return to normalcy, the consultation process with stakeholders and their input is required when coming to such decisions.

The “this you drink, this you eat” policy and the days of “government knows best” are over.

Pushing requirements down our throats without proper consultation has to stop. Did anyone even consider all the issues and related problems?

Didn’t thought go into the ‘bus only’ ruling or was it done to placate and pacify travel agents, bus owners, and operators?

Views expressed here are the writer’s own