Friday, January 22

Council adapts to ‘new normal’ in the wake of pandemic


Sempurai (right) had his temperature taken before entering the Sibu Jaya Market and Tamu.

ENFORCEMENT of the Movement Control Order (MCO) and later, the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), to break the chain of Covid-19 infection has engendered a new normal to adapt to changing routines and lifestyles brought by the pandemic.

The ways we socialise, work, learn, and live are changing. In fact, the government aims to speed up community digitalisation as part of the new normal.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has said the implementation of MCO had led to an increase in the use of digital platforms and e-commerce, among others.

“Digitalisation in government administration, businesses and daily lives will be a trend in our future,” he said.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg recently said the Sarawak government’s efforts to introduce a digital economy over the past three years had helped the state to deal with situations such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said technology had become especially important during this period as e-commerce is playing a bigger role in the new normal.

“Some say the pandemic will bring about a negative impact on our economic development while some think it is worse than the Great Depression.

“As far as Sarawak is concerned, we have to accept the fact that we are entering a new way of life and a new economic landscape post Covid-19.”

The Chief Minister was speaking at the recent Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC) Post Covid-19: Sarawak The New Normal Webinar, moderated by MPC director-general Datuk Abdul Latif Abu Seman.

On the local front, the new normal means a new way for the Sibu Rural District Council (SRDC) to manage and provide municipal services.

Sempurai in a video briefing and meeting via Zoom.

“It has brought about a new way of doing things. Meetings have been conducted with technology like Zoom video conferencing, Skype, and WhatsApp groups,” SRDC chairman Sempurai Petrus Ngelai told thesundaypost.

He said council meetings were finally convened via Zoom video conferencing although the Local Government and Housing Ministry had already been using this software to communicate with the council secretary and senior section heads.

“Yes, the council will use Zoom for monthly meetings and probably the full council and standing committee meetings as well, depending on the need and directive from the ministry.”

Importance of safety

Sempurai said while adapting to the new normal, councillors would still be holding meetings and discussions through available media.

“Of paramount importance is the safety of councillors and staff. All protocols, standard operating procedures (SOP) and directives will be strictly observed. We cannot afford to be complacent as the war against Covid-19 is still going on.”

He revealed that the council would explore the use of technology such as Monitoring Apps to keep tabs on municipal services and contracts and get photos for feedback.

This had made the digital revolution more prevalent as such technology became more widely used, he added.

According to Sempurai, SRDC is digitalising the issuance of bills for assessment rates and other fees to prevent or minimise physical contacts.

“As we’re fully aware Covid-19 is still present not only in Malaysia but throughout the world, we cannot let our guard down.

“Social distancing and personal hygiene are essential. To prevent clusters in confined places or premises, we need to find ways to solve this problem, including the use of digital technology,” he said.

As a way forward, he said the council is now using Sarawak Pay for fees.

“It promotes social distancing and is safe and convenient for taxpayers as well. In this digital age, we can pay bills and fees   hassle-free from home.”

He pointed out that staying home or working from home is the safest way to avoid crowds and minimise physical contact – an important strategy in preventing the high risk of contagion.

Hence, he urged all the council’s clients and fee payers to use Sarawak Pay or other online payment apps.

Sempurai noted the virus has even compelled eateries to change their usual way of serving customers.

“Ordering online has become a norm. It’s convenient and safe.”

Sempurai (second right) being briefed by council engineer Jacky Tiong (right) during a recent site inspection.

Major challenges

According to him, one of SRDC’s major challenges during the MCO and CMCO were providing municipal services with limited movement and manpower.

Most of the council’s projects had to be put on hold as the contractors could not get their workers to the construction sites or obtain building materials.

On the positive side, essential services could still be carried out, including garbage collection, maintenance, market monitoring by the public health and enforcement sections, public health vector control, and the dog unit.

As for the council administration, Sempurai said only half of the staff were permitted to work in the office with the rest working from home.

This happened during early part of MCO, whereas during CMCO, the government allowed more sectors and services to operate, giving the council more room to provide semi-essential services.

He added that during the restricted movement period, SRDC also performed duties like monitoring SOP compliance, enforcement, and others as allocated by the Sarawak Disaster Management  Committee and Local Government and Housing Ministry.

“All these made the council’s responsibilities for helping the other agencies more challenging.”

On coffee shops, he said the operators gave their cooperation.

“Initially, the council saw a lot of room for improvement but gradually, most of the operators cooperated and followed the SOP and protocols.

“It wasn’t easy at first because people were restricted in carrying out their daily routines. But after a while, they started to realise and accept that staying home and social distancing are an integral part of the new normal and the only way to break the infection chain.”

Sempurai (third right) and his team at a project site.

RMCO challenges

According to Sempurai, SRDC’s major challenge during the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) is expediting maintenance under Marris (Malaysian Road Records Information System) and projects under state government grants.

With almost three months of work stoppage, there is a lot of backlog clearing for both contractors and monitoring staff alike.

“What’s important is the council must deliver to ensure infrastructural maintenance and projects are carried out during RMCO. As restrictions become more relaxed, we foresee work being expedited to make up for the time lost,” he said.

Recently, Sempurai led a council team to seven development sites – five for Marris projects and two for Rural Transformation Projects (RTP). Four have been completed while the rest are ongoing.

During his visits to the Sibu Jaya Market and Tamu, he reminded the traders to observe social distancing.

Sempurai said the council’s focus for the next six months will be to complete all the projects and do some planning based on priorities.

“We’ll reduce community engagement programmes and may use other ways to implement them like applying technology in safe small groups.

“The council will look into new norms to plan and carry out projects and municipal services. God willing, we will win this war against Covid-19,” he added.