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 20th of January, 2021

Why we need to move away from Trump and Najib

The 20th of January 2021 will mark the end of the tumultuous four years Trump’s presidency. The 9th of May 2018 marked the end of Najib’s kleptocratic prime ministership. The Republican Party and its leadership will not find it easy to move away from Trump and his legacy, just as UMNO and its leadership has not found it easy to move away from Najib and his 1MDB baggage. But for the sake of the party and country, the Republicans must leave the legacy of Trump behind. And for the sake of Malaysia, UMNO and its leaders must move away from Najib and his ignominious 1MDB legacy that current and future generations of Malaysians will continue to pay for many years to come.

Republican supporters of Trump and UMNO supporters of Najib suffer from “denial syndrome”. For the former, they do not want to admit that Trump is a serial liar because admitting this means that they have been fooled by Trump throughout his presidency. Whether it is his lies about the crowd size during his inauguration or saying that the 2020 presidential elections were ‘stolen’ from him, his ardent supporters have to believe his message in totality – hook, line, and sinker – in order to preserve their own credibility.

For the latter, they don’t want to believe that Najib was complicit in the mega-1MDB scandal because to do so means that they were fooled into defending him in the first place when news about this scandal broke out. So they hold on to the myth that Najib took the 1MDB money to help the poor, he took the money to help UMNO leaders in their constituencies, and that he was fooled by the ‘mastermind’ behind this scandal, Jho Low.

For the Republican and UMNO leaders respectively, I suspect that most of them are cognizant of the fact that Trump is a serial liar and that Najib was complicit in the 1MDB scandal. But they dare not say this publicly because this would shatter the ‘myth’ that Trump is really out there fighting for the little guy and that Najib is an honest Prime Minister who wants the best for Malaysia. Other than a few brave souls like Mitt Romney (Republican Senator representing UTAH) and Khairy Jamaluddin, not many leaders from their respective sides have publicly denounced the actions of Trump and of Najib.

For the Republican leaders, some of them may feel beholden to Trump for helping them win their seats in past elections. Trump may have helped raise money for some of them. Many of them probably fear the prospect of being challenged in the Republican primary if they do not show absolute loyalty to Trump.

For the UMNO leaders, many of them would have been ‘helped’ by Najib when he was Prime Minister. Some may feel beholden to him for their current political position. They would also acknowledge that Najib is still a powerful personality and leader within UMNO.

Trump will likely continue to command public attention after his presidency ends. He will find new ways of reaching out to his supporters if he remains banned on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And he will want to continue to influence his Republican base.

For Najib, he (or rather, his team) is probably the most effective user of social media among all the politicians in the country. His attempts at rebranding himself as “BOSSKU” is well-known nationwide. His Facebook posts continue to receive significant public attention and also news coverage. He is probably the best social media ‘troll’ in Malaysia in his use of social media to cast ‘shade’ against his political opponents. His popularity on social media may be one of the reasons why UMNO leaders still fear him and do not want to offend him publicly.

But it would be a mistake to think that Trump and Najib’s social media popularity translates into majority voter support. While Trump has a very vocal support base, he still lost the 2020 presidential elections by approximately 7 million votes (please check). His popularity would certainly have fallen further after his instigation to his supporters to attack the Capital building in Washington DC on the 6th of January 2021. There will probably be new legal cases filed against Trump after he leaves office and this will serve as a stark reminder of his abuses of power during his presidency.

Najib may still have many supporters on social media but every time he appears in court for a 1MDB related hearing, it is a public reminder that this scandal will follow him for the rest of his life. (Not to mention his wife, Rosmah’s, court appearances in the RM1.25 billion hybrid solar project bribery case) Najib (and Rosmah) would certainly be a political liability for UMNO if he were to play a prominent leadership role in the next general election.

I do not presume to know what is the best way for the Republican party and UMNO to move on from the toxic hold which Trump and Najib have on these parties, respectively. What I DO KNOW is that the future prospects for both parties would be much brighter without the influence of Trump and Najib. And the future of the United States and of Malaysia would be significantly better if both these figures can be marginalized politically in their respective countries. For the sake of America’s democracy, the Republicans and the country need to move on from Trump. For the sake of Malaysia’s future, UMNO and the country need to move on from Najib.

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 18th of January, 2021

10 Questions for Tan Sri Dr. Noor Hisham, Director General of Health

Two days ago, on the 16th of January, 2021, Malaysia reached a new high of 4,029 COVID-19 cases. We have just started the first week of the second Movement Control Order (MCO 2.0) and this will go on for two weeks from the 13th of January until the 26th of January. By contrast, we reached a high of 235 COVID-19 cases on the 26th of March, 2020, during the first MCO. Credit should be given to the leadership of Tan Sri Dr. Noor Hisham, the Director General (DG) of Health, and the public health front liners for their tireless efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. But nine months after the first MCO, there are a number of questions that remain unanswered in our fight against the COVID pandemic. I hope that DG Noor Hisham can provide convincing answers to the following 10 questions in order to assure the public that the government has a comprehensive plan to control this pandemic.

Q1: What is the total number of daily COVID-19 tests done by the Ministry of Health (MoH)  and what is the daily % of positive cases?

The daily focus has primarily been on the total number of new daily COVID-19 cases. While this number is important, we also need to know the total number of tests that are being done on a daily basis and the % of positive cases. This will give us an indication of (i) our testing capacity and (ii) the daily infection rate. According to a report in October 2020, Malaysia’s daily testing capacity then was approximately 54,000 but the average number of tests done was less than half this number.[1] If the daily testing capacity cannot be reached because of human resource shortages, the private sector (which is already doing their own tests) can be roped in to address this gap. Daily testing by the state will also be able to show shortages in the number of test kits in places like Sabah, for example.

Knowing the daily infection rate is also a useful indicator of infection trends moving forward. There have been many calls for the DG to make known the daily testing figures but until now, for reasons unknown, this figure has not been disclosed on a daily basis.

Q2: What is the number of contact tracers used by MoH? What measures have been put in place to address shortfalls in contact tracers?

As the number of daily cases spiked to more than 1000, it was not surprising that the contact tracers would be overwhelmed. Over the past few weeks, reports have surfaced on how some families who have tested positive for COVID-19 had to wait for days before someone from MoH contacted them. Earlier this month, my colleague and former Deputy Health Minister, Dr. Lee Boon Chye, asked for an additional 10,000 contact tracers to be hired on a temporary basis to deal with the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.[2] There has been little disclosure on the number of contact tracers used by the MoH and even less discussion on the need to hire more contact tracers by the government. Without a proper contact tracing infrastructure, our ability to contain this pandemic even after the end of MCO 2.0 will remain in question.

Q3: Can more accurate location information about COVID-19 cases be disclosed publicly?

To date, the MoH has been very reluctant to provide more accurate location information for new COVID-19 cases. According to official reasoning, the government doesn’t want to cause a public panic in places where positive COVID-19 cases have been identified. But at the same time, the DG has been asking the public to avoid crowded places. A more transparent and effective strategy would be for more accurate location information to be provided to the public so that they can stay informed. Without any official confirmation, unnecessary speculation about the exact location of new cases cannot be prevented. New sites such as Malaysiakini already provide a daily report of places with new COVID-19 cases but this list is not verified by MoH.[3] More transparent sharing of data would enable the public to make more well-informed choices about where to visit and where not to visit, especially after the end of MCO 2.0.

Q4: What transmission trends can be analysed based on MySejahtera data?

As of the 19th of November, 2020, the Ministry of Health has recorded 1.7 billion check-ins by users via the MySejahtera app (with an average of 15m daily check-ins) including for those COViD 19 positive patients.[4] But until now, we are not aware of whether this massive database has been analysed for transmission trends. For example, are the transmission rates higher in certain places such as gyms and restaurants compared to optometrists and hair salons? Once a factory cluster has been identified, what transmission mechanisms are most likely to cause community spread in the affected area?

We need to know this analysis in order to determine which businesses should be allowed to open during an MCO. We also need this information in order to improve and enhance our existing SOPs to reduce transmission rates. As of now, nobody is quite sure, if and how the data from the MySejahtera application is being analysed and processed. This is one of the reasons why, for example, there is still uncertainty as to whether hair salons and optometrists should be allowed to operate during MCO 2.0.

Q5: What is the capacity in terms of the number of beds available and the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity by the state?

To date, there has not been daily data released to show the capacity of beds available for COVID-19 patients as well as the total ICU capacity. Ideally, this information should be given by the state so that there is public transparency over existing hospital capacity and what additional steps need to be done to address shortages in this capacity. This would include the need to rope in private healthcare facilities to take in COVID-19 patients (if necessary). The possibility of asking patients with no or mild symptoms to stay at home to quarantine should also be discussed in light of shortages in hospital beds. We only hear about the lack of capacity recently with the Prime Minister’s announcement that our healthcare system is at a ‘breaking point’ in terms of ICU and non-ICU bed utilisation rates.[5] Why isn’t this information included as part and parcel of the DG’s COVID-19 briefing and press statement?

Q6: What were the COVID-19 transmission rates in schools when there was face to face classes in 2020?

One of the biggest challenges faced by parents in 2020 is the shutting down of schools due to COVID 19. The decision by the Ministry of Education to shut down all primary and secondary schools until the end of 2020 seems like a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that does not take into account variances in COVID cases across districts and states. As important, MOE has not disclosed any data or analysis with regards to transmission rates within schools.

The information which has been released by the Ministry of Health tells us nothing about how children of a school going age may have gotten the virus. Indeed, the manner in which some data has been released by MOH and reported in the news seems misleading. For example, in a statement on the 23rd of June 2020, the DG of Health said that one of five COVID 19 or 20% of patients in Malaysia is 18 years and below.[6] On the 22nd of October, the DG was reported to have said that more than 1,000 school-going children were infected with the virus since the start of the 3rd wave from the 20th of September to the 21st of October. During this time, it was reported that 587 cases involved pupils aged from 7 to 12, and 670 cases involved students aged 13 to 18.[7]

These reports seem to give the indication that the students contacted COVID while attending school. This will inevitably stoke unnecessary fears among parents who may have 2nd thoughts about sending their children to school.

What do international studies and benchmarks tell us?

In an update date 21st of October 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) made the following conclusions among COVID transmissions in schools:[8]

  • There were few outbreaks reported in schools since early 2020 and in most COVID 19 cases reported in children, the transmission occurred at home
  • More outbreaks were reported in secondary/high schools than in primary/elementary schools
  • In school outbreaks, it was more likely that the virus was introduced by adults rather than by other children.
  • School outbreaks were only high when the incidence of local / community transmission was high.

The same WHO study also recommended that schools be closed when there is no other alternative because of the negative effects of school closure especially on marginalized children who may drop out of school and who may be deprived of school-based services such as school meals and mental health support.

In a publication on the 14th of September, the WHO, UNICEF, and UNESCO wrote that “decisions on full or partial closure or reopening should be taken at a local administrative level, based on the local level of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and the local risk assessment, as well as how much the reopening of education settings might increase transmission in the community”.[9]

If schools are to re-open for face to face classes in the RMCO and CMCO states on the 20th of January, 2021, MoH and MOE have to disclose data publicly in order to convince parents that it is safe to send their kids to schools.

Q7: Housing situation for foreign workers in the security, manufacturing and construction industries?

One of the main transmission channels for the COVID-19 virus has undoubtedly been dormitories which house foreign workers who work as security guards, construction workers and factory workers. Some of the glove manufacturers with a high number of COVID-19 cases were asked to shut down ‘in stages’ but were allowed to re-open after their workers were tested. But thus far, there has not been any concrete policy announced by the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Human Resources to force employers to provide for less cramped accommodation for the sectors with the most number of COVID-19 cases. There has also not been a coherent testing policy announced for the construction and manufacturing sectors. There MUST be such policies put in place in order to keep the COVID 19 transmission rates low, especially after MCO 2.0 is lifted. Without proper testing and accommodation policies for these foreign workers, it is less likely that COVID-19 infection rates can be controlled after the lifting of MCO 2.0

Q8: What is the Rt Value by state and why isn’t this figure publicly available?

MoH publishes the daily Rt value for the entire country on its COVID-19 website.[10] This figure currently stands at 1.17. Any value above 1 means that the number of cases is expected to grow and any number less than 1 means that the virus is under control and the number of cases can be expected to decrease over time. It would also be useful for MoH to publish daily Rt values for each state in Malaysia so that there is more clarity on which states are performing better and which states are doing worse from an infection control standpoint. The Rt value by the state can and should also be used as an indicator on when an MCO should be declared for a state and when it should be changed to a CMCO or an RMCO. For an even more targeted approach, the Rt value can be used for individual areas within a state. The Rt value by the state clearly exists since DG Noor Hisham has referred to it in one of his Facebook posts on the 20th of December, 2020.[11] Why not disclose the state by state figures on a regular basis?

Q9: How has the federal government worked with the respective state governments to fight COVID-19?

Thus far, the fight against COVID-19 seems to be one that is controlled and dictated mostly by the Federal government with the Ministry of Health, specifically the DG, taking the lead. There has been little coordination between the federal government and the respective state governments to join forces in the spirit of cooperation and solidarity. The former Minister of Health, Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad, who is also the chair of the Selangor Taskforce on COVID-19 (STFC) has publicly called for more data sharing and cooperation with the Ministry of Health but so far, his calls have gone unheeded.[12] It is this kind of ‘silo’ mentality that has prevented Malaysia from using a ‘whole-of-government, whole-of-society’ approach to battle this pandemic. Will this kind of mentality change now that the number of COVID cases have spiked significantly, especially in the state of Selangor?

Q10: What are we doing differently now compared to March 2020?

My last and final question is simple. With nine months of experience in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, what lessons have we learned and what are we doing differently in MCO 2.0 compared to the first MCO? Do the plans which have been announced give the public confidence that the Ministry of Health and also the rest of the government are capable of bringing down the COVID-19 numbers without collapsing the economy?

There is little indication that this government has learned from the experiences of the past 9 months. Last minute SOPs issued AFTER the start of MCO 2.0, U-turns on which sectors can open e.g. the automotive manufacturing sector[13] and optometrists[14] and uncertainty over school re-opening[15] are just some examples of the failure of this government to prepare for MCO 2.0. As the adage goes, “if we fail to plan, we plan to fail”.
















Media Statement by Dr Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi and DAP Assistant Political Education Director, on the 11th of January, 2021

Lack of consistent policies, weak political leadership and an unstable government key factors in reducing investor confidence in Malaysia under the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government

The response by EUROCHAM Malaysia CEO, Sven Schneider,[1] to Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul’s statement on healthy approved Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and Domestic Direct Investment (DDI) in Malaysia[2] has gone ‘viral’ via social media.

I do believe that the problem identified by Mr. Schneider – not being able to seek an appointment with the Finance Minister – is part of a larger problem currently faced by long term investors and companies in Malaysia. He is expressing part of the frustration which many companies are feeling because of the lack of consistent policies by the PN government. The foreign chambers of commerce here in Malaysia value a close and cooperative working relationship with the government of the day. I very much found this to be the case when I was the Deputy Minister of MITI from July 2018 to February 2020. There will always be issues that these chambers will raise to the government on behalf of their member companies but seldom will these issues be escalated into the public realm. But under the PN government, the lack of consistent policy has made the already challenging business climate even worse, including for these foreign Multinational Companies (MNCs).

The hastily implemented first Movement Control Order (MCO) in March 2020 which caused Malaysia’s 2nd quarter 2020 GDP to plummet by 17.1%, the haphazard entry ban on all foreign nationals from countries with more than 150,000 cases, and the current uncertainties over what MCO 2.0 will entail are all but examples of the lack of direction and consistency in policy making under the PN government.

These issues matter much more than before because they will inevitably affect the ability of the approved investments referred to by Tengku Zafrul to be realized in the future. Many of these investment decisions, whether by foreign or domestic investors, would have been planned in the past, probably before the start of the COVID crisis. Companies that have already invested in Malaysia are the best spokespersons to potential investors in the country. If these companies do not have confidence in the current investment and policy climate, it is likely that potential investors will also be discouraged from realizing their investments in Malaysia in the future.

The weak political leadership of the current PN government stems from the lack of a coherent governing narrative among the parties in power. As much as one would like to criticize the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, there was at least a clear governing narrative – improving governance and transparency, reducing corruption and red tape, and encouraging a more competitive economic landscape. At least PH had a manifesto which we tried our level best to implement. But the current PN government has no governing philosophy or purpose other than to continue to stay in power despite its shaky parliamentary majority.

The effects of this weak political leadership can be felt among the business community. There does not seem to be a coordinated government effort in the fight against the COVID 19 pandemic. The Health Minister seems to have fully delegated the COVID response to the Director General of the Ministry of Health (MOH). The Minister of Human Resources does not seem to be able to come up with a coherent testing policy among the foreign workers in the various sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Education has adopted a one-size-fits-all education policy by closing schools even in green zones with very few COVID cases. The result of this weak political leadership is that the business community has slowly by surely lost confidence in this government’s ability to manage the COVID crisis. This is why the American Chamber of Commerce in Malaysia (AMCHAM) has called for the continued operations of the business sector especially for the Electronics and Electrical (E&E) sector if there is to be an MCO 2.0.[1] EUROCHAM has also expressed its concern over the possibility of a full lockdown in MCO 2.0.[2] On the local front, the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM), the SME Association of Malaysia, and the Tourism Agencies Association of Malaysia (MATA) have also expressed similar concerns over the economic impact of an MCO 2.0.[3]

Finally, it cannot be denied that one of the major concerns investors in Malaysia are currently facing is the continued political instability and uncertainty. The latest situation is that the PN government only has the support of 110 MPs with the news of the withdrawal of support for the government by the UMNO Member of Parliament for Machang. It is ironic that the MITI Minister, Azmin Ali, whose Ministry is in charge of attracting FDI to Malaysia, was one of the instigators of the Sheraton move which caused the formation of this unstable PN government. The Education Minister, Radzi Jidin, who was heard lamenting about foreign investor confidence in Malaysia during the final PH meeting which included BERSATU, in February 2020, should ask himself if this confidence has increased under the PN government. Ahmad Maslan, the secretary general of UMNO and BN, was recently heard in an interview saying that the slim parliamentary majority of the PN will decrease investor confidence in the country. But yet, he is also insisting on an early general election despite the spike in the number of COVID 19 cases in the country.

The questions surrounding FDI and DDI that were raised by the EUROCHAM Malaysia CEO is but the tip of the iceberg. Do not expect investor confidence to return to Malaysia anytime soon under this PN government. Any future government will have a very challenging time making up for the significant ground that has been lost under this PN government.