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By Harlina Samson and Sharifah Nurliza Syed Mohammad
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 28 – Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has stressed that the declaration of emergency in the country was an appropriate move taken in response to a major health crisis and not due to politics.
The Prime Minister said the emergency was not to enable him to hold on to the post of prime minister but to ensure that the COVID-19 pandemic could be managed effectively and speedily.
He gave an assurance that the emergency would be lifted earlier than its scheduled end of Aug 1 if the pandemic could be contained and the country was deemed safe from the virus.
“... if we can settle it early (and) the Independent Special Committee that was set up says it can be done (lifted), I will just follow … We also do not want to be restricted by such a regulation forever,” said Muhyiddin in a special interview with Bernama and several other media organisations at his residence in Bukit Damansara here in conjunction with his first anniversary as prime minister. The interview was aired on Buletin Bernama over Bernama TV at 8 pm today.
Muhyiddin said via the Emergency Ordinance, the government can propose amendments to certain acts or enact new regulations in the form of ordinance without having to go through Parliament which would take a long time.
“So, I would like to say that this does not mean the emergency is to enable me to hold the prime minister’s post for a long time. I also do not know which party now has more seats than me; previously there was an attempt to show (the numbers) but it was not proven.
“I am confident that I have a big support. I am convinced that my position is constitutionally right. Legal. I cannot sit as an illegitimate prime minister. That’s because I do my work properly. So, I’m not worried about that.
“But the declaration of emergency was not a question of politics; Some politicians view it as political, (but) no. Politics should not be used for emergency, but this COVID requires (declaration of) an emergency … So, I hope the people understand; it was not due to the fear of not getting a majority in Parliament,” he added.
The Prime Minister said the 15th general election would be held at a suitable time because the priority now is to overcome the COVID-19 threat, which has infected almost 300,000 people and claimed more than 1,000 lives in the country.
“… the important thing is we settle this (COVID) first. When we are done with it, I don’t want to wait even a day (to hold elections) … we are not worried at all ...,” he said.
The first COVID-19 case was reported in Malaysia on Jan 25 last year, with the first wave involving imported cases, while the second wave struck at the end of February the same year.
There was a spike in COVID-19 cases during the third wave which occurred in September last year after the Sabah state election.
After the daily positive cases surged from double digits to thousands, the prime minister advised the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to declare an emergency. On Jan 12, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah declared the Proclamation of Emergency which will be in force until Aug 1.
The emergency is a proactive measure to curb the spread of COVID-19 and will be lifted earlier if new COVID-19 cases could be effectively controlled and reduced.
Al-Sultan Abdullah also consented to the government’s proposal to set up the Independent Special Committee to advise him accordingly if the emergency can be ended earlier. The committee comprises government and opposition Members of Parliament, and health experts.
The following are excerpts of the interview with the Prime Minister.
Q: The declaration of emergency to control COVID-19 continues to be used as a political fodder, including by partners in the PN government, purportedly because the PN government resorted to using the emergency because it had lost majority support in Parliament. What is Tan Sri’s comment?
A: Yes, first we decided to advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong based on grounds that are quite reasonable and appropriate for this time. If you remember, when we wanted to do it the first time around, His Majesty did not give his consent, but agreed on the second occasion. Why? Because the COVID situation was very concerning; it still worries us. That’s why we asked for the declaration of emergency, so that with it we can use provisions of the Emergency Ordinance to manage the COVID-19 problem faster. This is because with the Emergency Ordinance, the government can propose amendments to several acts or new matters to be enacted in the form of ordinance, to be taken to the Cabinet, then to the Agong.
Agong gives his consent, it gets gazetted the next day and can be implemented. We can if we want to wait for the Parliament process, but normally it takes a long time, but with COVID you cannot wait until tomorrow; it must be settled today.
That is why when we made the decision to enforce, we amended Act 342, Act 446. Act 342 is on health, for example, if previously the maximum fine was RM1,000, big or small (offences) RM1,000 only. It has been amended to provide for a maximum of RM10,000 or if it involves companies and the like, it can go up to RM50,000. What’s the purpose? To control and for enforcement to check violations and so forth.
Or previously the army cannot make arrests; if they want to help the police they cannot do anything. So, we empower them to detain and arrest according to the existing police powers. But these are not normal times, our hospitals are at breaking point and they are running out of capacity. So, what should we do? We built temporary hospitals, MAEPS for example. With this power, we can take temporary possession of private hospitals, including their beds, equipment, doctors and nurses. It can be done with this (ordinance); that’s why we used this approach. But the good thing in our country is that although we have this Act, they are willing to help voluntarily. Now we get an additional 1,300 beds; just calculate how many millions we have to spend if we want to build 1,300 (beds).
We can use (their) ambulances, which they were unlikely to provide but because of the emergency act, we can use them. So, there are many other matters which we have done, and then we found that among the major problems in this COVID battle is non-compliance with Act 446 by employers.
What is Act 446? It deals with human resources; in the Human Resource Ministry there is an act compelling employers to provide suitable accommodation (for workers). Almost 70% did not abide by it. Without COVID it may not be apparent, but when COVID struck, non-compliance caused cases to burst out here and there.
Now that we have made a minor amendment to the act, we can take action fast. What we want to present to the Agong for his consent now is on (combating) COVID fake news. We drafted the act within a week; the AG (Attorney-General) did it all, the Cabinet will approve and it will be presented to the Agong. If the Agong gives his consent, signs it and after it is gazetted, the authorities will have the power to detain, arrest or take immediate action against anyone who creates all sorts of COVID stories which are fake news.
What I’m saying is, it does not mean the emergency is meant for me to occupy the Prime Minister’s seat for a long time. I also do not know which party now has more seats than me. Previously, there was an attempt to show (the numbers) but it was not proven. I am confident that I have a big support.
I’m convinced that my position is constitutionally right. Legal. I cannot be an illegitimate PM. I do my work properly, that’s why. So, I’m not worried about it. But the declaration of emergency was not a question of politics. Some politicians view it as political, (but) no. Politics should not be used for an emergency, but this COVID requires (declaration) an emergency.
With the powers of the Emergency Ordinance, we can act more effectively; once it (COVID) is settled, we do not need it anymore. The previous emergency was an open emergency, no time period was fixed. I set Aug 1, but if it can be resolved early, the Independent Special Committee that was established says it can be done (lifted), I will just follow.
It’s not that I want to occupy the seat for two years although the previous emergency stretched for two years. We do not need that. Once we have achieved what we set out to do, we will go back to normal. We too do not want to be restricted forever by such a regulation. That’s why my aim was not that. So, I hope the people understand; it’s not a question of being scared of not getting a majority in Parliament.
People went to Parliament to challenge me, saying I did not enjoy majority support. Our Supply (Budget) Bill was approved 27 times. I don’t mean to boast; it’s on record in Parliament, Budget 2021 was passed. How did it get approved if there was no majority? So, I hope the people do not doubt, because I know my position and I am only discharging my duty, the mandate to look after the rakyat. This is what I’m doing now.
Q: Epidemiologists say it will take about a year after the start of vaccination before normal life is back to order. Do you foresee the General Election being held this year?
A: It will be subject to all those things. First things first, of course, to see to it that we can manage COVID. If COVID is flattened, the country is said to be safe from this pandemic, that’s what we are hoping for. That is first. The second question on when the emergency will end depends on the work of the Independent Special Committee, whose objective is solely on that. When there is information from health authorities that everything is okay, the majority out there has been vaccinated or even if not all have immunised but the rate has dropped to, say, double digits; then reports from experts, epidemiologists say Malaysia is clear, okay, we will end it.
It is not the government who will decide. The committee will advise the Agong, that now that is over, we can end the emergency, back to normal.
And regarding the third question on the General Election (GE), according to the constitution, when the ruling government feels there is a need to hold a GE, the prime minister will advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to dissolve Parliament. If the Agong gives his consent based on the advice, then only Parliament will be dissolved.
The question is when? Can you answer that? When the time is right; that’s why first things first, let’s settle this COVID first. See what happened in Sabah previously? We were not bothered because our law says we need to hold the (state) election. So, even until now it (COVID) is not settled yet. Then by-elections were required to be held there, that is in Bugaya and Batu Sapi, (but) the fear of COVID forced us to suspend the polls … so, the important thing is we settle this first. When we are done with it, I do not want to wait even a day. We are not worried about anything, that is most important.