What a cock-up!

The sheer incompetence of some of our ministers is amazing. They seem to be stumbling from one snafu to another – suggesting warm water could flush out the virus, strutting around in protective gear for no particular reason, encouraging housewives to act like Doraemon or be stoic in the face of domestic abuse, etc. And then there was the proposal to reopen barber shops, a proposal that was so ridiculous that even our barbers said thanks but no thanks.

While some of these antics bring much needed comic relief, others can be downright irritating. Take the decision by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to ask companies that want to operate during the MCO period to apply for permission online. Within hours, so many companies tried to access the MITI website that it predictably crashed.

In its defence, the ministry complained that online traffic had surged to 176,000 users within the first two hours the system went online. The ministry has now promised to get the system up and running again. 

The big question, of course, is why the ministry was unprepared for the deluge in applications? Surely, it should have anticipated that thousands of desperate companies are anxious to get back to business. But this is what happens when ministers make policies without thinking through all the implications. 

Perhaps, if ministers took the trouble to consult with their civil servants before rushing to make statements, such fiascos might not happen.

Besides, wouldn’t it have been more efficient to simply list the industries that can operate together with the necessary guidelines instead of asking each and every company to apply for permission? Now they are even asking companies which have already obtained approval (under phase one of the MCO) to reapply for permission “so that their approval letters will follow the new format that comes with a QR code.” How bureaucratic can they get?

That this should happen after a similar incident when thousands rushed to unprepared police stations at the early stages of the MCO to seek approval to travel out of town suggests that the government’s capacity to learn from its mistakes is indeed very limited.

It’s hard to have confidence in the government when we see these things happening with such frequency. And, when it happens at a ministry headed by a supposedly high-flyer like Mohamed Azmin Ali, it is all the more depressing.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |15th April 2020]

Published by Dennis Ignatius

Passionate Malaysian | Former Ambassador and career diplomat | Political affairs columnist | Human rights and international affairs commentator

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