Entering 2022 with unfinished businesses 

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 – Malaysians have entered 2022, but what kind of information or rather the burden of digesting revelations about not just political leaders but those entrusted with running public bodies, and their letdowns, indiscretions, as well as denials or responsibility for any wrongdoings — that they have carried into this new year from 2021?

Weekly Echo takes a look at some of the  unfinished businesses that hogged the 2021 news headlines, to scandals and exposure of poor management of government resources and misappropriation by civil staff and environmental disasters.

Covid-19, Omicron and booster shot

The good news was more than 90 percent of Malaysians completed their double vaccinations against the Covid-19 by December.   

A total of 31,462 people died in Malaysia from Covid-19, and while the daily numbers of infections have gone below 5,000, there are still deaths being reported.

Total cases have amounted to 2.76 million.

Hospitals have also not returned to operating as usual. Most of them continue to centre around Covid-19 detection and treatment while other illnesses have seemingly taken the back seats. Appointments are needed to enter public hospitals and walk-ins are only for those seriously ill.

Apart from the flip-flop decisions on Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures and, discrepancies in the meting out of punishments for the VIPs and ordinary citizens for flouting SOP rules, at least at the start of the pandemic, the management of the pandemic took on dive here and there in 2021 before stabilising towards the end of the year.

Meanwhile, just when Malaysians were happy leaving behind the lockdowns, the news of Omicron variant sent an alarm and the information of the booster shot was received with mixed reaction.

While many took their shots quietly, there were just as many with complaints, questions, mistrust and reluctance – all reflected in the social media. This however is not a project exclusive to Malaysia as worldwide there have been protests on vaccines and now the booster shots.

The threat from Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin about removing the full vaccinated status of those without a third shot of vaccine did not go down too well with the people.

The plan to make the booster shot compulsory is expected to be revisited at the Parliament in 2022.

Allegations against MACC Chief

The allegation against Azam Baki, the  chief commissioner of Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) , the national body entrusted with cleaning up corruption, continued as questions were raised on his alleged ownership of two million shares in a public listed company.

MP for Iskandar Puteri in a statement early this week called on Prime Minister Ismail Sabri to act on the allegation. He also pointed at the resignation by Edmund Terence Gomez from the MACC’s Consultation and Corruption Prevention Panel who cited inaction against Azam Baki as reasons for his resignation.

According to Kit Siang, Sungai Buloh MP R. Sivarasa had earlier filed an urgent motion seeking the Dewan Rakyat to discuss Azam’s alleged ownership of close to two million shares in a public listed company.

Sivarasa had alleged that between 2015 and 2016, when Azam was the MACC’s investigation director, he had become the owner of 930,000 shares in Gets Global Bhd as at April 30, 2015 and a further 1,029,000 shares as at March 31, 2016.

Sivarasa  also claimed that, as of March 21, 2016, Azam also owned 2,156,000 warrants in public listed Excel Force MSC Bhd, while his younger brother owned 3,728,000 shares in Gets Global.

Public servants are barred from owning more than RM100,000 value of shares in any company.

Again, another unfinished business that is set for debate in 2022 Dewan Rakyat sessions.

MITRA’s unresolved missing funds

The reported missing funds from the Malaysian Indian Transformation Unit or MITRA, meant for uplifting the Indian community were reported missing. Questions on their final destination continued to be a heated subject in Parliament.

Despite the voices of several MPs including Ipoh Barat’s M.Kula Segaran, Kota Kemuning’s Ganabatirao Veraman and Jelutong’s RSN Rayer, both within and outside Parliament, to investigate the core of the matter, the issue has remained unresolved like several other issues related to Indians in Malaysia.

In a press release on Dec 29, Kula raised a concern that National Unity Minister Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique had decided not to discuss the MITRA scandal during a Parliament briefing session that she had promised to hold on January 14th, 2022.

According to Kula, the minister has said she would now only discuss the Pelan Tindakan Masyarakat India (PTMI) and nothing about MITRA. He said while the proposed meeting was welcome, Malaysians were also looking forward to knowing the details of the mismanagement of MITRA.

Indians and Citizenship

The issue of inconsistency in the approval or denial of citizenship status to legitimate Indians born and bred in this country continued to be raised by many opposition leaders including Ganabati Rao, MP of Batu Kawan, Kasthuri Patto..

A social worker looking into this issue, said many departments in the National Registration Department, which comes under the Home Ministry, had only Malays as its staff and called for a better mix of staff in the department.

Meanwhile the Auditor General Report 2019 pointed out several failings of the NRD including mismanagement by its staff and non compliance to some operating systems. During the year, action was also taken against several NRD staff for being involved in forged identity cards.

This unfinished business will continue to be a topic advocated by opposition MPs in Parliament but it may continue to not get the attention it deserves.

Najib delivering keynote address at World Chinese Economic Forum was real, not fake news

While the initial reaction to news that former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was set to deliver the keynote address at the Beijing-backed World Chinese Economic forum was dismissed as fake news, it was later confirmed real and he did deliver the speech.

This left many unanswered questions, mostly to do with China’s diplomacy and the real deal between China and Najib, who is out on a bail currently.

His High Court conviction for corruption was unanimously upheld by the Appeals Court on Dec 8.

Former diplomat Dennis Ignatius criticised China and questioned its support for a convicted leader.

“China’s strategic interests trump Najib’s crimes. By giving him an international platform, China hopes to redeem the man and whitewash his criminality.”

China has invested heavily in Malaysia with its billion dollar investments ranging from stakes in major transportation projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative to printing and solar energy production.  

The Environment and Haphazard Development

While local environmentalists have been consistently bringing to attention the importance of the Malaysian rainforest and their role in protecting the environment, ecosystems, water catchment areas and wildlife and ultimately human lives, authorities have not been as fast in catching on this.

While efforts are being taken to go green and take action against the ordinary perpetrators who flout environmental rules, these actions, mostly reactions on hindsight, are not sufficient.

The treasures of the Malaysian forests are massive and the resources needed to care and take care of the national treasure are simply not enough.

Foresight is what is needed, said one environmentalist.

Haphazard development both in the urban areas, and infringement of forest areas have continued. The forest areas in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak continue to be a source for wealth creation among big companies including state owned companies. While many activities are carried out under the sustainable tag, they are not completely sustainable and have left indelible destruction to plant and animal species in their wake.

A massive revamp of all systems, especially on enforcement and compliance with Environmental Impact Assessment, especially of urban development projects, is what is required if Malaysia is to meet its commitment to the zero emission pledge, said the environmentalist.

Development must be also seen in a new light with the consequences of damages to environment as a vital factor.

Meanwhile, the MP for Segambut, Hannah Yeoh on Dec 31 made a police report on the approval of six flood retention ponds for development. She said the recent floods in the city were directly contributed by this oversight.

— WE