A peculiar chronicle of missteps


THE quarantine — or rather the lack of it — saga involving a Minister should probably qualify for Malaysia’s curiouser and curiouser file.

It is puzzling not only in terms of the lesser punishment meted on him compared to the citizenry of “lesser” status, but more so the fact that he was given a compound while the authorities were still investigating the case.

While he may have apologised to Malaysians for breaching the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) standard operating procedures and regulations, and promised to return four months of his salary, it does not take the sting out that other Malaysians had to face harsher punishments for similar offences.

With that, the hashtag — #antaraduadarjat or double standards — continues to weaponise trolls.

Attempts to deflect the case by highlighting an incident involving the daughter of a VIP who broke the RMCO had instead rekindled the interest in the minister’s case of double standards.

In her case, as the police proudly announced, there was no special treatment accorded to the VIP’s daughter and she was fined, alongside her husband, RM1,000 each — the same amount slapped on the other 28 patrons of the pub.

If anything, the police should be commended for not attempting to accord any special treatment to the VIP’s daughter and that they were free to uphold the law and had applied it equally to other offenders without any interference.

That is what the general populace expects from the authorities; that the law is applied equally to all and sundry, and the very reason why the treatment that was accorded to the minister continues to be a subject of public discourse and displeasure.

If this attempt to deflect public scrutiny on the minister had turned out to be a miserable one, the attempt to drag the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration through the mud over the issue of the directly awarded contracts also seemed to miss the target by a mile.

It started when Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz (picture) revealed in Parliament that during the PH’s 22-month rule, it had approved 101 government contracts through direct negotiations with a total value of RM6.61 billion.

Though Tengku Zafrul was quick to add that direct negotiations were allowed for under certain conditions with the approval from the Finance Ministry, government backbenchers were quick to latch on the “revelation” and accused the previous PH administration of hypocrisy as it had advocated open tenders.

It led to several PH leaders, former Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and even former Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to demand full disclosure of the projects and the recipients from Tengku Zafrul.

When Tengku Zafrul released the full list, it was obvious by then that he was shooting blanks and in the words of MP Fahmi Fadzil of PH, the minister had scored an own goal. Lim went to town with the list, pointing out that the PH government was only responsible for 5.3% of the total RM6.61 billion project value.

The rest were legacy projects and contracts for supplies or services inherited from its predecessor, the Barisan Nasional administration.

Ironically, in the meagre 5.3% of PH’s responsibility in the directly awarded contract, more than half the amount went to ministries whose ministers are now serving as ministers and PM in the current administration.

With the table turned, and PH and other Opposition parties revelling in it, Tengku Zafrul urged all parties to stop politicising the issue, justifying his revelation as a reaction to requests from MPs on the issue of directly awarded contracts and such.

His statement is further viewed as an attempt for a ceasefire, if not to end an issue that had not profited his side politically or morally. Tengku Zafrul’s efforts are nothing more than closing the gates after the horse had bolted.

The question is: Why did he even venture there in the first place? Surely, he can’t be that politically naive not to realise that the PM and several Cabinet members were part of the previous administration which only left office less than six months ago.

One explanation could be that he was put up to it by shallow and desperate handlers who wanted to swing the tide for a government and PM whose majority in Parliament is questionable and tenuous.

The current government is merely standing because of a fractious Opposition. Though the government is not any less divided, given the three coalitions’ coalition — the Perikatan Nasional, Muafakat Nasional and Barisan Nasional — they are still together because of the sharing of the bounty and largesse.

How the coalitions are going to work within a coalition is indeed a curious affair, especially in the upcoming Sabah election and a later Sarawak election.

Baffling it may be to some, but the quest for power had in the past proven that nothing is impossible. And the appetite for it is insatiable.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.