PETALING JAYA,Feb 15: The Covid-19 pandemic has made it starkly evident that the Perikatan Nasional government is struggling with its basic function of governing, according to veteran politician Daim Zainuddin.
He alleged that the government was not functioning efficiently and was failing to place the public’s interest as its first priority.
“Every ministry seems to be working in silos,” he told FMT in an interview. “The people have yet to see even one example of a concerted multi-ministerial effort to fight the pandemic apart from the presence of some military personnel at roadblocks.”
He said the absence of a “uniform direction” in fighting the pandemic could be seen in the government’s failure to provide stable internet connections and access to students learning from home.
“Why are the ministry and agencies in charge of communications and multimedia not sitting down with the education ministry to see how they can resolve connection issues for students being forced to study online?” he said. “Students feel abandoned by this government, and rightly so.”
Daim, who headed the Council of Eminent Persons after Pakatan Harapan formed the government in 2018, said he knew most Malaysians were feeling abandoned by the government.
He said public announcements by ministers and even the prime minister did not instil confidence.
“People are no longer glued to their TV sets waiting for the evening press conferences. No one is listening to the ever-changing SOPs or the unhelpful regurgitating of numbers of infections or names of clusters.”
He said Malaysians had not heard from half of the ministers about what their ministries were doing in tackling the pandemic.
“Those who do speak only serve to pour even more confusion and worsen an already dire situation,” he said. “The people now say that the unclear, inconsistent SOPs stand for ‘Semua Orang Pening’ (Everyone has a Headache).
“The government’s decisions thus far are not making sense because they are not based on science.
“Take the decision last week to reduce minister’s quarantine periods to three days and to possibly extend this to business people. Where is the scientific backing for this decision? All that the people see are double standards in enforcement.”
He quipped that the virus did not care whether one was a minister or not.
Daim, who was finance minister during Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first watch as prime minister, acknowledged that citizens understood the need to reopen the economy, but said this could be done only by addressing the pandemic.
“There is no dichotomy between the pandemic and the economy. Get your policy right on the pandemic and it will follow that your economy will improve as well.
“If you get your policy on the pandemic wrong, the economy will suffer and will not recover.”
He alleged that Malaysians had not felt the benefit of the government’s infusion of “billions here and there”.
He said they wanted to know what had happened to the 2021 budget allocations and the various stimulus packages, adding that taking out their EPF savings was not considered as help from the government as the money was their own. “So where is this RM600 plus billion?”
According to him, Malaysians had concluded that the government either had no plans or was so poor in its communication efforts that it appeared as if it did not care about them.
“Many suggestions have been made by opposition MPs, industry leaders, health experts, NGOs and even the man on the street,” he said. “So, the complaint is that the government does not seem to be listening.
“When the prime minister makes special announcements on Covid-19 aid packages, they are often so off the mark that they fail to address the issues raised by the very industries that are suffering.”
Daim also criticised the opposition parties, particularly those that formed the Pakatan Harapan government.
He said they seemed to have forgotten how to provide effective checks and balances.
“They too have been in government, even if it was just for 22 months. Each of the previous ministers can be the shadow minister to their previous portfolio.”
He claimed that most Malaysians now believed neither the opposition nor the parties in power had any clue of how to handle the pandemic and had therefore stopped following political developments.
“Regardless, people have voiced their hope that the emergency will end before Aug 1,” he said. “They want Parliament and the state assemblies to sit and for elected representatives to be able to do the jobs they were constitutionally voted in to do.”