Now that the prime minister’s approval ratings are on a high among the rakyat for doing and saying the right things, it’s time for Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin him to step up and end all the confusion they are facing. Especially since the confusion is being caused by his ministers and to an extent, the PM himself.
In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, the rakyat are told that any decision to be made by the government during the Movement Control Order (MCO) would be on the advice or in consultation with the Health Ministry, which is being done except in some cases.
For instance, the green light for barber shops and hair salons to operate during the third phase of the MCO.
When Muhyiddin announced the extension of the MCO for another two weeks in his latest address to the nation, he said a list would be published soon on economic sectors that will be allowed to gradually resume operations.
Hours after the PM’s address, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali issued a statement to say that the cabinet, which of course the PM chairs, has allowed additional sectors to make applications to resume operations. This includes barber shops and salons.
That decision did not go down well with the people, including barbers and hair stylists themselves. They fear for their safety as getting a haircut is not exactly in compliance with the social distancing protocol which the government itself is advising the rakyat to follow.
This gives the impression that the Health Ministry was not consulted on the matter. In an immediate reaction, Director-General of Health Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that while he agreed that the government should be planning how to slowly return life to normal after the MCO, he felt that the government should postpone allowing barbershops and salons to resume operations.
Surely, the good doctor would not have said that had MoH officials been consulted before Azmin’s statement was released.
Enter Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaacob who said MITI will consider public views on whether barbershops and hair salons can operate during the MCO. Never mind that Ismail the Defence Minister made that commitment, not Azmin who is in charge of MITI. Anyway both Ismail and Azmin are senior ministers in the Muhyiddin administration.
Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar then chipped in to say the government’s nod for businesses including barbershops and hairdressers is only for those in the “green zones” as classified by the MoH. That adds to the confusion.
According to Wan Junaidi, the list of additional services that would have their restrictions lifted was drawn up by a special Cabinet committee that was formed on the instructions of the prime minister during a Cabinet meeting two weeks ago.
So where does the Health Minister feature in all this, or was the Health DG not kept in the loop? This is very strange as he is in the thick of the fight against the pandemic.
In his daily press conference on Sunday April 12, Ismail confirmed Wan Junaidi’s remarks that the new sectors allowed to operate are limited just to green zones.
But at the same time he said hair-cutting services will not be automatically allowed to operate pending approval of their application. This was already announced earlier by MITI.
The so-called new aspect is the allowing of operations in green zones. For the record there are currently only 29 districts in the country that are marked as green zones where there are no reported Covid-19 cases based on the latest maps issued by MOH.
Moving on to the issue of students stranded in their accommodation during the MCO. The Education Ministry has proposed that the students be allowed to go home. Dr Noor Hisham however has advised the ministry to be patient. Again it looks like the MoH was not consulted before the proposal was made. Otherwise, Dr Noor Hisham wouldn’t have voiced his reservations, would he?
This time however Ismail shot down the MoE proposal saying that all students must stay put.
And what about the Ramadan bazaars? Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa is very keen to have such bazaars operate in some 66 locations in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya. Apparently he has got ideas on how the bazaars will look like and the way they will operate. He seems to know why the bazaars ought to be given permission to carry on. This is despite objections by Malaysians including Malays who see that the bazaars can hinder efforts to flatten the Covid-19 curve.
It looks like Annuar has made up his mind. But according to Ismail, who is the spokesman for the National Security Council, only the NSC can issue directives during the NCO. So is Annuar bulldozing his way past the NSC?
There are many more instances of conflicting decisions. I had written previously about government directives that were not well thought out before they were announced – resulting in u-turns and flip flops and most of all confusion for the rakyat and the people who are supposed to implement them.
It’s time the prime minister steps in and puts his foot down to ensure that all directives are first discussed thoroughly among all relevant parties. This applies especially to the Ministry of Health and Dr Noor Hisham in particular, as what he says matters during these frightening times.
One more thing. It would be good for the PM to put into effect an MCO on his ministers – a Mouth Control Order.
Mohsin Abdullah is a contributing editor at The Edge. He has covered politics for more than four decades.