Stop the politicking; work together

We are, as a nation, facing the biggest crisis we’ve ever faced. Thousands are sick, many are dying. The need for unity, at least unity of purpose, has never been greater. 

Yet we see our politicians playing the usual political games. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is quietly finding ways to punish Pakatan Harapan (PH) by withholding allocations for opposition MPs while dishing out extra funds for his own members.

PH is also playing politics by needlessly warning about food riots and the possibility that supply chain disruptions might lead to starvation. The anxiety level is already high and people are worried. Such talk is both alarmist and unhelpful. 

What the people expect of their elected representatives, particularly at a time like this, is that they will all put aside their differences and work together to protect and help the people.

We need to be bringing together our brightest and best – politicians, economists, financial experts, healthcare professionals, NGOs and representatives of other sectors – to craft the right strategy to respond to the needs of all Malaysians affected by the economic fallout from the crisis.

We have many smart and outstanding people; we need to exploit their talents and experience. The politicians must recognize their own limitations and understand they cannot do this alone.

Everyone talks about how adversely affected the B40 group and refugees and migrant workers are as a result of the movement control order but precious little is being done to actually help them. NGOs are doing what they can but it is not going to be enough. The government needs to respond immediately.

Over the last few days the media has carried reports of vegetables from Cameron Highlands and other parts of the country rotting because produce cannot be transported to consumers. Fishermen too are having to dump their catch because of similar problems. It is a disgrace that precious food is going to waste at a time when we need to conserve food.

The army with all its manpower, logistics and equipment should step in to help farmers and fishermen get their produce to consumers. Certainly, it will be more useful than manning roadblocks which the police are more than capable of doing on their own.

Clearly, there are lots of things – big and small – that can make a huge difference to all the people affected by the pandemic. Our healthcare workers show us what’s possible when there’s teamwork and dedication. So please, stop the politicking and get to work to serve the people of Malaysia.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |27th March]


Leadership envy

In these days when news travels around the world faster than the speed of light, Malaysians can very quickly observe how our leaders stack up in comparison with other world leaders in managing the coronavirus pandemic.

Going by social media comments, many Malaysians think our leaders are doing a terrible job compared to say South Korea, Singapore or even Israel.

A video interview of South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha speaking about the pandemic, for example, drew thousands of admiring comments from people around the world. One Briton even wondered if it was possible to borrow her to lead the UK until the crisis passes.

In Malaysia, viewers praised Kang’s performance and envied Koreans for the calibre of their leaders. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose, when we have ministers here talking nonsense on national television as the health minister did recently when he opined that drinking hot water could flush out the virus. He’s such an embarrassment to us all.

As well, in many countries, prime ministers have taken to giving daily briefing to keep the public informed; here we have “senior” ministers all talking at the same time and often contradicting each other. Where’s the prime minister?

But then again, I suppose it could be worse. Imagine having the current White House incumbent as our “wartime” leader. If bombast and false news could protect America from the crisis, America would be the safest place on earth right now.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur | 23rd March 2020]


A heavy heart

In this Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, photo, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, gesture as he speaks during a press conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has tendered his resignation to the king, his office reported Monday. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Saturday, 29th February 2020

My heart is heavy this morning. After almost a week of emotion, anger and frustration, it now looks possible that the very people we voted out of office after an epic struggle could return to power. Many of the people who right now stand accused of corruption and abuse of power will once again walk the corridors of power. The reform movement will die along with the hope for freedom and democracy. Corruption will once again soar. 

People will say, of course, that all this is a worst case scenario. Actually, it could be a case of history repeating itself. We’ve been there before, remember?

Muhyiddin might think he’s in charge but sooner or later UMNO-PAS will swallow them all up. And once they are in control, they will make sure they never lose power again.

How will Malaysians react? Will we just shrugged our shoulders and move on? With Malays conditioned to fear the Chinese and vice-versa , Muslims conditioned to think that Islam is being challenged, ordinary Malaysians worried about the rising cost of living and business elites looking to thrive in a culture of corruption, many might cheer the return of UMNO in the belief that it will be good for the country.

And who can blame them. PH and the reformists had their moment in the sun and they blew it spectacularly.

In my heart I’m still hoping for a miracle, that somehow, at the very last minute, saner minds will prevail and we will yet again witness the kind of miracle we saw on that May night in 2018.

Strangely, I find myself also hoping that somehow Mahathir himself – despite all he has done – will find a way to break the impasse and save the nation from UMNO-PAS.

Is it about drink-driving or pushing a religious agenda?


The way some of our politicians are getting worked up about the whole drink-driving issue makes me wonder whether other agendas are driving the issue.

Let’s get one thing straight: drink-driving (or driving while intoxicated) is just plain wrong. It endangers innocent lives and must never be tolerated. Many countries have very strict drink-driving laws and rightly so.

Clearly, Malaysia has a drink-driving problem. Clearly, it needs to be addressed head-on. The sensible thing to do is to review existing legislation to ensure it is adequate to discourage drink-driving. We also need a campaign to educate citizens that it’s dangerous, immoral and plain reckless to drink and drive. If we need tougher laws, so be it; few have any sympathy for those who drink and drive and endanger the lives and limbs of others.

But let’s also remember that drink-driving (and drug-driving) is part of a much wider problem. Some reports suggest that Malaysia has the highest road fatality risk (per 100,000 population) among ASEAN countries with more than 50% of road fatalities involving motorcyclists.  Nearly 6,000 deaths and 25,000 injuries are reported each year on our roads. The highest numbers of motorcycle fatalities occurred in rural locations (61%).

And yet, we do not see the same outrage, the self-righteous demands for tougher action. If road safety (rather than religious or political posturing) is the primary concern, shouldn’t the government be looking at ways to improve driver training and education and enforcing the helmet, seat belt and other traffic laws nationwide?

Interestingly, when former finance minister Lim Guan Eng proposed (in February this year) increasing the penalties for drink-driving (and driving under the influence of drugs), many of the politicians who are now so agitated about the issue had nothing much to say. That should tell us something.

Whatever it is, the campaign against drink-driving shouldn’t be exploited for religious or political purposes by politicians desperate for something to distract public attention from their own backdoor scheming. Politicising the issue does noting to enhance road safety or solve the problem of drink-driving.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 6th June 2020]

Crooks, the whole lot of them


The slew of accusations now being traded between former leaders about corruption, nepotism and malfeasance in office has, no doubt, confirmed what most Malaysians have long suspected: that their leaders are all corrupt and untrustworthy.

They come around waving the flag and pretending to be great patriots but they are just opportunists out to enrich themselves and their cronies. No wonder they say that in Malaysia politics is the most lucrative profession of all.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who you vote for because they are all the same. Either way, the voters are screwed!

We have truly become a kleptocracy – government of kleptocrats, by kleptocrats, for kleptocrats – in every sense of the word.

“Politics: “Poli” a Latin word meaning “many” and “tics” meaning “bloodsucking creatures”.” ― Robin Williams

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |17th May 2020]

Pigs in the house?


There was an interesting article in the media last September about the state of Malacca being invaded by pigs from across the Strait. Apparently, they were abandoning their habitat for greener pastures.

Barely a month later, there was another newspaper headline that read “Question on pigs sparks off heated exchange at Melaka state assembly.”

It looks like the problem has gotten much worse since then. Latest reports out of the Malacca state assembly appear to suggest that even the august assembly might now be affected. At a recent sitting, one member repeatedly kept sounding the alarm about pigs – “babi! babi! babi!” he repeatedly shouted.

Perhaps the Wildlife Department or a reputable pest control agency should be called in to catch the pigs and release them into the wild where they belong. No word yet as to whether the Agriculture Department will classify the site a pigsty since it clearly has a problem with pigs.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |17th May 2020]


Making policy on the fly

It looks like our Federal Territories Minister is hopelessly confused.

In announcing the closure of pubs and restaurants that serve alcohol for the remainder of the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) period, for example, he opined that “Pubs that serve food are not restaurants. Even if it is a restaurant that has a pub, it is not considered a restaurant.” [The Star, 5th May 2020]

Worse still, his decision to close all establishments that serve alcohol during the CMCO period appears to be based on nothing more than hearsay – someone apparently told him that some customers in a pub somewhere were not observing the rules about social distancing. Instead of investigating the matter and appropriately sanctioning the establishment concerned, he closes all establishments that serve alcohol. 

If he applied the same yardstick to other establishments, he would have to close all restaurants or factories if one of them is found to be negligent.

If the rules are obeyed, what reason can there be to close pubs or restaurants that serve alcohol? After all, the objective of CMCO is to contain the spread of a virus, not impose the religious views of one group upon the rest of us. It looks like whenever alcohol is mentioned, knee-jerks responses are the norm.

It is yet another example of the arbitrary use of power and of making decisions on the fly that is becoming a hallmark of this backdoor government. 

Fortunately, we still have some professionals left in the bureaucracy to correct the impulsive and irresponsible actions of our ministers. DBKL has now clarified that restaurants with valid liquor licences are allowed to operate under CMCO.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 7th May 2020]

Should Mahathir be Leader of the Opposition?

Now that it is no longer in government, Pakatan Harapan needs to appoint someone to be leader of the opposition. Incredibly, one of the names being considered is none other than Dr Mahathir Mohamad!

What are PH leaders thinking? Mahathir is, after all, the person who is most responsible for the downfall of PH. He’s the man who was scheming to do in Anwar and keep him from becoming prime minister despite promising to hand over power to Anwar as agreed to by PH leaders before the election. After all that he has done, he is the last person who should be appointed opposition leader.

Besides, it would be simply preposterous, even ridiculous, to have the PPBM president sitting as government leader in parliament and the PPBM chairman sitting as leader of the opposition! PPBM has made its choice. Mahathir can join them or sit with the opposition; what he shouldn’t be allowed to do is to helm PH again as its de facto leader.

I, for one, will have zero respect for PH if it doesn’t have the common sense to say, “Enough is enough. Never again!”

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |26th April 2020]

Should the government spam the people?

Like many Malaysians I’ve been getting almost daily messages from the National Security Council (MKN) and other government agencies about the Covid-19 situation. I understand that we are in an emergency situation and the government might find the need to inform the public through all available means about urgent measures that need to be observed 

Still, as a citizen of a free country, I’d like to have the right to decide who can and cannot send me text messages. Besides, 51 messages in less than 5 weeks feels like harassment more than anything else and I want out.

On its website, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) defines spam as “electronic ‘junk mail’ – messages sent to a person’s mobile phone that they have not consented to receive.” Can unsolicited messages from MKN and other agencies then be deemed as spam?

MCMC advises those who receive spam on their mobile phones through short codes to report the matter; but what do you do when the government itself is spamming you by sending you unwanted messages?  What is worse, it is not possible to respond to them and neither can their messages be blocked.

And now it seems that the messages are not just about issues related to the MCO; one message that came recently advertised a special interview with the prime minister on TV. What next? Is this going to become a regular way for the government to communicate with the people? Who exactly controls this channel of communications? Who decides how it is used? Can citizens opt out of it?

As new technologies for mass surveillance, control and the dissemination of information become available, civil society must ensure that there is transparency and accountability; that new technologies will be deployed in ways that are consistent with our democracy. If we are not careful, there is a very real danger that we might quickly find ourselves in a PRC-type police surveillance state where government messaging becomes stifling. We should take nothing for granted especially with a backdoor government in power.

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 26th April 2020]

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]

Don’t lock down our democracy to fight Covid-19

Senior Minister and Minister of Defence Ismail Sabri Yaakob recently warned that “MCMC and also the police will take stern action [against] news portals that broadcast and publish confusing, inaccurate news.” He said that the government is concerned because “untrue, inaccurate and misleading news can confuse the public, and cause the rakyat to worry.”

There is no doubt that fake news, especially during this time of heightened concern about the deadly coronavirus pandemic, could cause alarm and undermine the heroic efforts of our healthcare officials to contain the spread of the virus.

What is worrying, however, is that the minister then went on to define “fake news” as news that “instils hatred towards the ruling government and leaders” or news that could cause “distrust in the ruling government.” [Malaysiakini, 11th April 2020]

This goes well beyond concerns related to the pandemic and appears designed to curtail criticism of the government.  As many human rights lawyers and media representatives have already pointed out, it is simply too broad a definition and will have the effect of criminalizing dissent and criticism of the government. It will invariably usher in a new era of censorship that will further throttle our already fragile democracy. 

In a democracy, elected representatives should at all times be accountable to the electorate; they certainly should not expect to be shielded from criticism, no matter how harsh. We need more accountability and transparency, not less. 

It also raises concerns about the potential for frivolous, politically motivated prosecutions. Kuantan MP Fauziah Salleh, for example, is being investigated over a video she reportedly posted of an allegedly out-of-control situation at the immigration complex in Johor Bahru. It turned out to be an old video unrelated to the current situation. It would have been enough to simply refute her allegations. After all, she made a fool of herself and damaged her own credibility; that should be punishment enough.

Besides, our health minister made the asinine claim in a television interview recently that drinking warm water could flush out the Covid-19 virus from one’s body. Isn’t that fake news too? Like Fauziah, the health minister made a stupid statement and was rightly chastised for it by the public; that’s the way it should be. 

At times of national emergencies, governments always tend to accrue crisis powers; we must be watchful to ensure that this backdoor government doesn’t abuse its authority to stifle our democratic rights. The coronavirus lockdown mustn’t be allowed to morph into a lockdown on democracy as well.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |14th April 2020]

To the victor goes the spoils

The biggest battle going on right now is not the war against Covid-19; it is the intense manoeuvring behind the scenes as backdoor Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin moves to consolidate his power. He knows that sooner or later he is going to face Parliament and a vote of confidence.  He is using the respite provided by the lockdown to strengthen his hand by dishing out key appointments to ensure maximum support for his still untested coalition. 

He’s already appointed 70 of his supporters to cabinet as ministers and deputy ministers but there’re still a lot more clamouring to be rewarded for their support. Many of those who were involved in the “Sheraton Move” which brought Muhyiddin to power expect to be amply rewarded. Backdoor governments don’t come cheaply, after all.

Furthermore, each of the leaders involved has his own cronies and relatives that want a share of the pie as well. The total number will eventually run into the thousands. Just read Professor Terrence Gomez’s groundbreaking book, Minister of Finance Incorporated, and you’ll get an idea of just how monstrous the political patronage system is. 

Those who complain about the burden of upkeeping our bloated civil service might be shocked to know that our political patronage system is just as costly given that some of these appointments cost taxpayers between RM30,000 to RM80,000 a month per person, not counting the lorry-load of other perks that come with the job. 

In the meantime, the government asks Malaysians who are struggling to cope with the pandemic to dip into their own EPF savings to survive. 

The appointment of cronies and political hacks to GLCs, statutory bodies and other government agencies is only the beginning; just wait till the scramble begins for contracts. And with the mother of all political battles (GE15) looming, everyone will soon be scrambling to find ways to build up their war chest. Expect to see cronyism, patronage and corruption rise to new levels.

Hadi Awang, the PAS president, was recently appointed Special Envoy to the Middle East – a largely empty and meaningless appointment that will nonetheless provide Hadi with a very handsome income. It will also give him the ministerial status, albeit backdoor, he has longed coveted.   

In the meantime, a number of Pakatan Harapan appointments are being revoked to make way for Perikatan Nasional appointees. More will follow. The key criteria will be loyalty to the regime; professional qualifications are always optional with such appointments. Rumours are rife that even some of those implicated in the 1MDB scandal will soon be making a comeback.

It is, I suppose, the way things are done in Malaysia. Now that the other side has returned to power, they want all their old high-paying cushy jobs back. They will also want to remove holdovers from the PH era who might insist on continuing the crusade to expose all the wrongdoings and corruption that have long plagued the country. The quid pro quo for UMNO’s support will ultimately involve some memory loss, if you know what I mean.

And don’t be surprised to wake up one of these days to reports that the whole 1MDB affair was actually fake news, a devious plot by the DAP to discredit a noble leader and undermine the position of the Malays. Or that 1MDB was actually a brilliant idea that was ruined by the unfavourable publicity and fake allegations made by PH politicians.  

To the victors not just the spoils but the power to rewrite history.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |5th April 2020]

Politicians exploiting national emergency to promote themselves

The shameful behaviour of some of our politicians never ceases to amaze me. We are in a crisis, arguably the worst crisis this nation has ever seen. Life has become tough and the future is uncertain but the people are pulling together as best they can.  Our doctors and healthcare workers are behaving with a level of professionalism and commitment that does our nation proud. 

And what do our politicians do? They look for every opportunity to promote themselves, often with public funds.

Take the Minister of Housing and Local Government who donned protective gear, held a hose in her hands and pretended that she was somehow on the frontlines of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. And just so that everyone would know it was her, she had the words “menteri” emblazoned on her headgear. 

If she thinks that Malaysians are going to be impressed by her juvenile antics, she is sadly mistaken.

And then there’re all those politicians who are handing out food, face masks and other items to badly affected areas with each item adorned with their photographs and/or party logos. If that is not shameless politicking, what is? Many are using public funds and making it look like they are giving out of their own generosity and kindness. There are even reports that some of the items being distributed with political messaging are items donated by China or the public. 

And they are all doing it – PPBM, UMNO, PAS, PKR, DAP and MCA – as a recent report by Bersih indicates. Apparently, a national crisis like the coronavirus pandemic is just another political opportunity for some of these MPs. 

Is the idea of genuine public service gone for good? Is everything now tainted by self-serving and self-promoting politicians? How poorly our nation is served by this bunch of shameless, unethical and unscrupulous politicians. Shame on them all for trying to exploit a national crisis for political gain. 

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |4th April 2020]

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