Tuesday, March 2

Light at the end of a long tunnel?  

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A tranquil House, for now. — Bernama file photo

MANY Malaysians were worried about the failure of the Members of Parliament to get the Supply Bill 2021 passed into law. The federal government could have collapsed had it failed to get the majority of the MPs to vote ‘YES’ to its expenditure proposals. Had the Money Bill been totally rejected, the government would not have the necessary authority to spend taxpayers’ money on the development projects and on the administrative and other essential services, this year.

That worry is gone; the government may go ahead with spending approved expenditure for the year. Now it is the job of the implementers of the various development projects and of the civil servants who oversee the spending to ensure that the money will be properly used and accounted for, at the end of the day.

A big chunk of the 2021 Budget has been earmarked for the measures by which a battered economy like Malaysia’s – no thanks to Covid-19 pandemic – could be stimulated and reinvigorated. Back to the situation before the invasion of the dreadful virus, it is hoped.

We shall see if the money will be used on the intended targets. Normally, the Auditor General will produce a report as usual on what went right and what went wrong with compliance of the Treasury Instructions (TI). But, in two years’ time. Now here is the problem – problem of periodical monitoring of the progress of each measure or project undertaken.

Periodical audits 

To help solve this problem, I suggest that there should be produced interim audit reports on specific anti-Covid projects. And these must be made public from time to time. Why? Because if Parliament and the state assemblies are not functioning from now till Aug 1, there will be no checks and balances; no MP or State legislator can raise questions in the respective legislature on how each Covid-19 project is going on – problems of implementation, mismanagement, labour shortage, etc.

It may be a full year before we, the ordinary mortals, get to read the AG’s Report, though it will be presented to Parliament. By that time, however, answers to problems would be of academic interest only.

We need a reporting procedure/mechanism to find out the positive effects of the budget allocated for the war effort against Covid-19, and we need it now!

A surprise 

Budget having been approved, I thought that the political power struggle between the parties in Peninsular Malaysia would soon fizzle out; when the war against Covid-19 virus was being won now that the vaccine would be made available as soon as there were enough volunteers or guinea pigs ready to be jabbed with the vaccine; when several of the restraints on personal movement had been relaxed; and when I thought that happy days would be here again, there came a surprise.

It was a double whammy – another extension to the Movement Control Order, topped up with an Emergency. Aduuh!

Another lockdown. I don’t mind so much; wide powers obtained without going through permission of Parliament are another matter altogether.

I’m therefore assuming, rightly or wrongly, that this Emergency is absolutely necessary for one thing only. There seems to be no trump card; by implication, the laws and the measures controlling the spread of the virus are not adequate or effective enough. There is therefore the necessity to go for an all-out war against the country’s enemy Number One, Covid-19.

Count me in. A bitter pill to swallow, but what if it will produce a side effect on the freedom of speech and in the process curb healthy democratic activities, by design or by chance? Then I think many people reserve the right to see the Emergency. Allow them that freedom, thereby you help, wittingly or unwittingly, preserve democracy, warts and all. I appeal.

The war against the virus is worth supporting. The devil has caused so much damage to the economy of almost every country, caused many deaths, and therefore brought so much unhappiness to millions of people in many countries, Malaysia included.

If the Emergency rule in Malaysia lasts until Aug 1 this year, a side effect is the postponement of the state election in Sarawak. An election may be held even during an Emergency situation: it was held in Malaya in 1955, and in Malaysia in 1970. What makes it wise to postpone the election is the vital need to control the spread of the virus by the campaigners; of people in large congregations who come to hear the speeches of the candidates and supporters expounding their ideas of good governance and propaganda to run down their opponents.

So, how does this emergency affect you and me? This time the restrictions on personal movement had better be really effective. Hopefully, the emergency measures will focus on winning the war against the Enemy Number 1 rather than against political rivals. Start by banning all travel by politicians.

By coincidence or by design, the polls in Sarawak will have to be postponed beyond a date after Aug 1. Not to worry, hold on to your vote. Use it wisely when the time comes after the Emergency is over or when the Covid-19 is finally crushed.

Meanwhile, for your own safety and that of your family and your contacts, continue to observe the SOP of the Movement Control Order: mask over the face except when eating, keep social/physical distancing, wash hands with water and sanitiser, and keep away from a large crowd of people. Be ‘cruel’ to be kind: deem anybody, even a member of your family, a potential carrier of Covid-19.

Keep updating yourself of any changes in the MCO. Listen and accept advice or directives only from the State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC). There are any number of ‘experts’ out there. I don’t trust some of them.

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