IF there has been the clearest indication by a king in Malaysia that a government must go, this was it. He confirmed what the people suspected all along – that the revocation of emergency ordinances was not yet done and on top of that did not have his assent.

Let’s extract some key points from the Yang di Pertuan Agong’s strongest statement yet: “(The revocation was) hastily made without presenting it in Parliament… the contradictory and misleading statement in Parliament failed to respect the principle of the rule of law in the Rukun Negara.

“To this, His Majesty expresses great disappointment over the statement made on July 26 (Monday) that the government has revoked all emergency ordinances promulgated by His Majesty, although the revocation has not yet been given royal assent.

“His Majesty is also greatly saddened that what was decreed to Law Minister Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan and Attorney-General Tan Sri Idrus Harun during an online meet on July 24, that the motion to repeal emergency ordinances must be tabled and debated in Parliament for the purpose of dissolution, has not been implemented.

“His Majesty is aware that there is a need to act based on the advice of the cabinet, in accordance with Article 40(1) of the federal constitution.”

That’s as clear as clear can be and such a royal rebuke has probably never been delivered to a sitting government in Malaysia.

It is now clear that Takiyuddin and the government had not sought the king’s assent and the king is equally in the dark about the proposed revocation – we now know it to be so, because it can’t be law without giving time for the king to give his assent – as the whole of Malaysia, except for some or all members of the Perikatan Nasional cabinet.

It is also clear why the government took this route, because it was first of all fearful of losing a vote – any vote – in Parliament which would show that it no longer enjoyed the support of Parliament and secondly to try, by ridiculous means, to trump the opposition which was all prepared to nail this government to the wall.

Clearly too, Takiyuddin and Idrus were not acting on their own as far as this revocation of the ordinances was concerned. There is only one person who could have given the orders – Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who must be held fully responsible for this unprecedented gaffe of immense proportions.

Tellingly at the height of the Parliament session on Monday, he did not participate in the debate at all, merely reading his statement on the economic recovery plan amid the noise and pandemonium, and leaving soon after that, not to be seen again.

Not that his performance was impressive before, in fact it was much less than lacklustre, appalling to say the least, leaving the country without proper, strong leadership based on concern and respect for the people. In fact I had given 10 reasons why Muhyiddin should resign three weeks ago based on his poor handling of the Covid-19 crisis and the economy.

Muhyiddin simply could not rise to the occasion and offer leadership to guide the country out of the crisis with the help of everyone who could offer expert assistance. Instead he showed that the uppermost in his mind was staying in power at all costs no matter how much damage it caused.

For that reason alone, he and all those closely associated with him, including those who give him strategic advice, must go.

It is still not clear if the entire cabinet was involved with this pathetic attempt to prop up the ruling government. If they were they should go too and if they weren’t, then they should resign now to avoid being tarred with the same brush. Now is the time for all good men in the cabinet to disassociate themselves from this government.

This leaderless, clueless, feckless, hapless government and its leaders must all of them go for they have shown that they are unaccountable to Parliament, king, country and the rakyat, having reconvened the house only under considerable pressure. Muhyiddin and the gang had their chance and they squandered it – badly.

Make way for someone else who has enough support and ability to form a new government; put in a new, fresh, able, straight and competent cabinet and bring some leadership, badly needed to overcome Covid-19 and put this country back on the path of rightness and righteousness. – July 29, 2021

P. Gunasegaram is chief executive of research and advocacy unit Sekhar Institute and  editorial consultant of The Vibes

By the way, this problem of migrant workers – most of whom are undocumented – also affects poorer Malaysians, whose wages are depressed further by the presence of cheap labour, but work under atrocious conditions.

Back to Covid-19: we need to ensure a substantial portion of foreign workers get vaccinated, and if they already have Covid-19, to properly isolate and quarantine them. That is not happening enough.

Workplace infections are primarily in manufacturing and construction – but the government keeps affected factories and sites in operation for economic and other more nefarious reasons. What needs to be done is targeted controls affecting the areas where the infections are taking place instead of blanket ones.

At the same time, it is necessary that those who are exposed be properly quarantined, which can only be done if they are in quarters. But because of the cramped areas, the infection spreads faster than a wildfire, even in quarters – there is no choice but to shut and isolate. Otherwise, we have the situation we deserve and which will progressively worsen. Hard decisions, but they have to be taken.

It happened in sterile Singapore, too, which used the big stick and basically cooped up those in the quarters with the threat of huge penalties. But remember, they know where all workers are – easier to keep them in because undocumented migrant workers are almost non-existent.

Makes you wonder how they do it, but we can’t: the difference is we have corruption, they pretty much don’t.

It is infinitely more difficult with undocumented migrant workers. How do we isolate them when we do not know who they are and where they live? The only thing to do is strict adherence to standard operating procedures and social distancing – these have to be enforced until there is some retreat or the vaccination rate reaches a high enough level to provide greater immunity.

For registered migrant workers, vaccination is an easier process – they can even use the MySejahtera app. I know of a migrant worker who got an appointment within two days of registering, which got me wondering, how come?

The problem is it is not clear how they get vaccinated – some pay RM50 for two doses, others pay RM380 for the same. Clearly, something is wrong here: middlemen are involved.

Some RM5 billion have been allocated for vaccines: why does anyone have to pay for it? Please, this needs to be sorted out. Is the vaccine minister listening? The issues have already been brought up in Parliament.

Prior assurances to undocumented migrant workers that they will not be arrested saw the exact opposite happen. – The Vibes file pic, July 29, 2021
Prior assurances to undocumented migrant workers that they will not be arrested saw the exact opposite happen. – The Vibes file pic, July 29, 2021

How do you get undocumented workers to be vaccinated? Some have been stung. Previous assurances that they will not be arrested saw the exact opposite happen. You need to give that assurance again and get it done this time. You can use the private clinics for this purpose.

Please do not charge too much, just the cost of vaccination; not more than RM50 for two doses. Make it affordable and, above all, demonstrably safe (from arrest that is), and they will come forward.

There is so much misinformation out there already it is alarming – such as dumping unwanted vaccines on them, injecting harmful stuff to kill them (I kid you not) besides the ever present danger of arrest. Perhaps announce a moratorium on all arrests of undocumented migrant workers by all authorities until we win the war over Covid-19.

Meantime, these workers are part of those who are very badly affected by the shutdown of many businesses and sectors caused by the lockdown. They need food aid at the very least. Let’s show them that Malaysians have not lost all their humanitarian traits in these trying times.

Drastic times call for brave, novel, and above all, honest measures devoid of all corruption, favours and profiteering. Only public pressure can result in this backdoor government making the right moves.

Turn on the screws – in Parliament and elsewhere. – The Vibes, July 29, 2021

P. Gunasegaram is chief executive of research and advocacy group Sekhar Institute and editorial consultant of The Vibes