Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi and Assistant Political Education Director for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on the 4th of September 2020

Government should strengthen its SOPs and allow foreigners from ‘red zones’ with valid reasons and proper documents to enter Malaysia after undergoing a proper quarantine process.

On Tuesday, 1st of September, Senior Minister in charge of Security and Defence Minister, Ismail Sabri, announced a total ban on citizens from India, Indonesia and the Philippines from entering Malaysia. Yesterday, on Thursday, 4th of September, he announced that this ban will be extended to countries with more than 150,000 total COVID-19 cases including the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, France, Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Bangladesh. This ban, which was announced to start on the 7th of September 2020, includes citizens from these countries who are Permanent Residents in Malaysia, those who hold Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) status, expatriates with valid work permits in Malaysia including those with Professional Visitors Passes (PVP), those with residential passes, spouses of Malaysians who hold spouse visas and students who have valid student visas to study in Malaysia. Instead of this blanket ban, we should strengthen our SOPs on foreigners travelling from red zones into Malaysia and ensure that they go through a proper quarantine process.

There are currently 23 countries which have more than 150,000 recorded COVID 19 cases. While securing our borders to prevent unexpected increases in the number of COVID 19 cases is of utmost importance, the threshold of 150,000 cases seems arbitrary. It doesn’t take into account the number of recovered cases and also active cases in a country. It doesn’t take into account COVID 19 trends in a country which may be increasing or decreasing. It doesn’t take into account that passport holders from these 23 countries may have NOT been staying in their home countries but in countries with less than 150,000 recorded cases. It also doesn’t take into account foreign nationals who are NOT from one of the 23 countries but may have spent some time recently in one of these 23 countries.

At the time of this press statement, there has been no official press statement or circular from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the National Security Council (NSC) to explain the policies with regard to this blanket ban, more than 2 days after this policy was announced. This shows that the announcement of this policy was not well thought through and not well coordinated among the various Ministries in the government.

There are humanitarian reasons for why this blanket ban should be reconsidered. For example, there are many foreign nationals from these 23 countries who are working and living in Malaysia with valid work permits and residency documents. They may have children and spouses who are currently overseas. Having this blanket ban means that these families would be separated indefinitely, until this ban is lifted or reviewed.

There are also economic reasons why this blanket ban should be reconsidered. Malaysia has done well in keeping the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at a low level over the past months. The Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, has said that the Malaysian economy remains competitive and open for business. He also announced a number of investment incentives under the PENJANA economic recovery package in June 2020. Many ongoing FDI projects will be negatively affected by this blanket ban, which includes countries such as the United States, France, Germany, the UK and India which are high FDI countries of destination for investments in Malaysia. Foreign professionals and expatriates will not be able to come to Malaysia to finish setting up manufacturing facilities and to oversee the running of these operations. New FDI opportunities would also be prevented from taking place if high level executives from these countries are not allowed to enter Malaysia to evaluate the possibility of setting up manufacturing facilities, shared service centers of excellence and data centers in Malaysia, just to name a few examples. Even citizens with passports from one these 23 countries who may be working from their regional HQs in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan or China, all of which have less than 150,000 cases, would also be prevented from entering Malaysia.

Please note that I am NOT calling for ALL citizens from these 23 countries to be allowed to travel to Malaysia. Instead, I am calling for the strengthening of our own SOPs if transmissions from countries in ‘red zones’ are a concern. For example, any foreign national with valid documents to enter Malaysia but are travelling from a red zone area or country should be required to take a COVID 19 test BEFORE entering Malaysia. And he or she should undergo the proper quarantine process of 14 days (or more) and be verified as COVID 19 free before being allowed to work and live among the population here. Our policy response towards the COVID 19 pandemic should be based on facts and proper data and should be explained clearly. By doing this, we can protect our borders, ensure that families are not inhumanely separated and increase Malaysia’s economic competitiveness.

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Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi and Assistant Political Education Director for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on the 14th of August 2020

COVID 19 Relief Bill – Too Little, Too Late.

The long delayed “Temporary Measures for Reducing the Impact of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID19) Bill 2020” was tabled in parliament for the First Reading on the 12th of August, 2020. In order for this bill to come into effect, it must be gazetted after being passed in the Dewan Rakyat before the end of this sitting on the 27th of August and also passed in the Dewan Negara before the end of the sitting on the 3rd of September. The earliest this bill can be gazetted is at the end of September. This is more than 6 months since the MCO was declared on the 18th of March, 2020. Furthermore, if certain legal actions and claims commenced or were concluded before this bill comes into force, the protections provided by this bill would not apply to these actions. In other words, this bill is too little too late and does not provide the necessary relief to the groups most affected by the MCO shutdown.

Section 7 of this bill is supposed to protect parties who cannot perform their contractual obligations as a result of the MCO shutdown. But Section 10 of this bill also states that “Notwithstanding section 7, any contract terminated, any deposit or performance bond forfeited, any damages received, any legal proceedings, arbitration or mediation commenced, any judgement or award granted and any execution carried out for the period from 18 March 2020 until the date of the publication of this act shall be deemed to have been validly terminated, forfeited, received, commenced, granted or carried out’. Section 10 effectively negates the protections provided by Section 7 to those most affected by the MCO shutdown.

For example, if you were a retailer renting a shop in a shopping mall and had your rental contract terminated by the shopping mall owner in July 2020 because you were not able to pay your rent during the MCO, then this bill will be irrelevant to you. Or if you are an event organizing company that had signed a contract to rent thousands of tents and portable toilets for a running event which had to be cancelled, as long as the company providing tents and portable toilets filed a legal claim against you BEFORE the gazetting of this act, the protections provided by this act will also be irrelevant to you.

It is highly likely that Section 10 may have the effect of encouraging MORE potential claimants to quickly file their legal claims against companies in the next few months BEFORE this act comes into force.

There are other loopholes in this bill which also weakens the relief it is supposed to provide.

Continue reading “Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi and Assistant Political Education Director for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on the 14th of August 2020”

Responding to the COVID Economy: Part 2 – Understanding the Employment Shock

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi and Assistant Political Education Director for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on the 5th of June, 2020

Responding to the COVID Economy: Part 2 – Understanding the Employment Shock

Key Points:

  • Loss of Employment (LOE) as recorded by the Employment Insurance System (EIS) increased by 72% in April 2020 (compared to April 2019). Projected to increase by at least 2 half times in 2020 (compared to 2019)
  • Jobs at risk in the 5 most vulnerable sectors (Travel & Tourism, Wholesale & Retail, Construction, Manufacturing & Agriculture) estimated at 1.67 million. Unemployment in 2020 likely to be far higher than the current projection of 4% by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM). Range between 8% to 14% likely.
  • The Wage Subsidy Program (WSP) and the Employment Retention Program (ERP) have definitely helped businesses but no evidence that they have ‘saved’ 2.4 million jobs
  • Key policy recommendations – pass a COVID Relief Bill (but may be too little too late), targeted incentives and policies to revive the most affected sectors, extended financial assistance to businesses and cash transfers to individuals especially those without EIS protection

One of the most significant economic impact of the COVID crisis is the loss of employment. In the United States, for example, the unemployment jumped from 3.5% in February 2020 to 14.7% in April 2020, a level not reached since the Great Depression, which lasted from 1929 to 1933. In Malaysia, on the surface and in the official statistics (for now), we have not seen a significant increase in the unemployment rate. Even though the unemployment rate increased from 3.3% in February 2020 to 3.9% in March 2020 (or an increase in the number of unemployment from 525,000 to 611,000 in on month), Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) is projecting the overall unemployment rate to increase to 4% in 2020.[1]

Continue reading “Responding to the COVID Economy: Part 2 – Understanding the Employment Shock”