From opposition leaders to lawyers to scores of netizens on social media, the recently announced rule exempting ministers from normal quarantine protocols has drawn fierce criticism.
Malaysia’s Minister of Health, Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba, recently signed an order giving clear preferential treatment to ministers and cabinet members in requiring them to undergo ‘observation’ for only three days when returning from business trips overseas, despite the average incubation time for Covid-19 being five to six days, and the legally mandated quarantine period for those returning to Malaysia being 10 days.
The ministerial order comes into effect today, February 9, and will be in force until August 1.
The double standard of the order – as well as the reckless decision to enact the order itself – has been heavily criticised, with the law being called both discriminatory and illegal.
“The gazette violates Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, as all persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection,” lawyer Jadadish Chandra said in a statement, pointing out that the coronavirus doesn’t differentiate between government ministers and ordinary citizens.
Another lawyer, Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar al-Mahdzar, said the order was “irrational, disproportionate, and tainted with bias,” and showed that Adham was favouring his cabinet colleagues. He also pointed out that the ruling was subject to legal scrutiny.
“The order can be challenged by way of declaration as it is illegal,” he said, adding that Adham should withdraw it before it caused further embarrassment to Malaysia.
Yet another lawyer, Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali, said the ruling smacked of double standards and gave the appearance of looking after the interests of a select few. “[Adham] cannot give preferential treatment to himself and his Cabinet by way of an order,” he said.
Health expert Dr Milton Lum Siew Wah echoed the criticism from a healthcare perspective, saying, “The Covid-19 virus doesn’t know how to distinguish between ministers and ordinary Malaysians,” and noted it was particularly disappointing to note Health Director General Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah’s failure to speak out against the ministerial order.
Malaysian Medical Association president Professor Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy also criticised the three-day quarantine exemption order and urged the government to revoke the regulation.
“This smacks of double standards and we strongly urge that the new order be revoked immediately. If the government wants the people to strictly adhere to the standard operating procedures, it should lead by example and abide by the same rules.”
Dr Subramaniam concluded, “The same 10-day quarantine period should apply to all regardless of position. The government must put a stop to the double standards.”
The rule also contradicts Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s own assurances in a speech last year that everyone – regardless of rank or position – would be subjected to the same SOPs required by the fight against the pandemic, and anyone breaking the law would be punished.
Following a breach of quarantine last August (which was then 14 days) by Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali, Muhyiddin publicly declared, “The Perikatan Nasional government is of the stance that every Malaysian is subject to the laws of the country, and no one is exempt. As such, I leave it to the relevant authorities to conduct a comprehensive investigation, and to take suitable action according to the legal process.”
Apparently, the solution here was simply to change the law to avoid breaking it, a fact not lost on DAP’s Lim Guan Eng, who called the Perikatan Nasional government “a disgraceful administration of double standards with ministers displaying the worst examples.”
Given the suspension of Parliament under the proclaimed ‘state of emergency,’ Lim noted that the government couldn’t even be questioned on why they were travelling or why ministers were being exempted from the compulsory 10-day quarantine period upon return.
“Clearly the suspension of Parliament has nothing to do with reducing the number of Covid-19 infections, but [is only] a dishonest pretext by the PN government to pass laws and regulations by fiat at their personal whim and fancy,” he said. “By allowing ministers special privileges not granted to the people, the PN government has proven that it is not interested in complying with the Standard Operating Procedures to combat Covid-19.”
Lim added, “With such special privileges, no wonder the present government leaders are clinging on to their posts by hook or by crook, despite the loss of their parliamentary majority.”
Naturally, never missing an opportunity to jump into the fray, former PM Najib Razak offered up his own criticism on his Facebook page, saying the decision never should have been made as Covid-19 does not distinguish between rank or position.
“The average incubation period of Covid-19 is between five and six days. There’s a danger of those infected being wrongly released too early, then infecting even more people,” Najib wrote. “This is proven by the initial three-day self-quarantine imposed by the health ministry on those returning from the Sabah state polls last year.”
Thousands of angry Malaysians, meanwhile, have taken to Twitter to call on Adham to resign over such an “incompetent decision” that many say will pose a grave risk to Malaysia, particularly at a time when more dangerous variants of the virus are emerging in some other countries.
The hashtag #AdhamBabaLetakJawatan has been trending on Twitter all day, attracting thousands of posts.
One user summed up the feelings of many others, it seemed, with his post quickly getting plenty of traction: “Malaysians have had enough of you. Complete disaster under your leadership.”
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