Containing pandemic highlights PN’s 6 months in power

PM says govt is ready to implement additional stimulus to help people facing economic constraints

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN/ pic by BERNAMA

THE Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration under Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (picture) reached its six-month milestone on Monday. With no manifesto or election promises to fulfil, there is no real yardstick, no tax cuts or jobs creation numbers to really measure its progress.

Muhyiddin acknowledged this during a convention to mark the milestone, but assured that not having the manifesto was not a licence for him to act as he pleased.

“No manifesto does not mean that I don’t have a responsibility or accountability to the people. I still have to demonstrate accountability as a leader,” he said on Tuesday.

For PN, the parallel battle against a global pandemic meant that much of what the government has achieved in the past six months is tied to how well the disease has been contained. Under this pretext, the federal administration can claim it has done well.

Its early decision to impose a nationwide curb on movement has succeeded in flattening the curve, as new cases continued to stay low in recent months compared to the daily three-digit climbs recorded in March and April. The temporary closure of state borders, particularly during a festive period, has also helped limit the spread of the disease.

Tough lockdown measures in select areas and the introduction of the MySejahtera government app meant that contact tracing can be done more effectively. Any recognition on how successful Malaysia has been at containing Covid-19 is indirectly a recognition on the government’s part.

The government can also take credit for its RM295 billion stimulus packages that have granted some reprieve to many Malaysians. The bank loans moratorium, rent exemptions and cash aid offered during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period have proven to be the most helpful.

Muhyiddin said the government is ready to implement additional economic stimulus packages or other initiatives to help the people facing economic constraints if necessary and if the government’s financial situation allows it.

“What I have done for the past six months was based on this principle. I have to take care of not only the people’s lives, but also their livelihood,” he said.

However, there is a lot more to be said under the coronavirus pretext than just the daily tally or how much aid has been distributed. The pandemic also serves as a tool to identify areas of discrepancies under PN rule.

PN’s rise to power in March came a week after a political turmoil, which gave Muhyiddin a thin majority in Parliament. A parliamentary vote in July to remove Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof as Dewan Rakyat Speaker showed the majority was as narrow as two votes.

Critics often cite Muhyiddin’s fragile position as grounds for his lack of action against Cabinet ministers who have been caught flouting the MCOs on more than one occasion. The quarantine breach involving Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali has been the most contentious so far.

Mohd Khairuddin attended Parliament just five days after he returned from a trip to Turkey on July 7. Under federal rules, all inbound travellers must isolate themselves for 14 days and be subject to at least two tests.

Despite initial attempts by the minister to play down the matter, he eventually admitted to the breach and was fined RM1,000 — an amount considered trivial compared to penalties imposed on other citizens who committed similar offences. This has led to accusations from the public and the Opposition of double standards.

Meanwhile, despite the government’s pledge to leave no one behind in the stimulus package, a report by the Unicef-United Nations Population Fund entitled “Families on the Edge” revealed that the majority of women-headed households in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur lacked social protection.

This is in addition to complaints by micro, small and medium enterprises who claim they have limited access to bank loans and are suffering from insufficient cashflow.

A federal minister had also recently admitted in the Dewan Rakyat that there have been cases where subsidies given to retain workers have been misused by employers, though details were not given in full.

In short, while the government has done well in containing the spread of Covid-19, it has fallen short of managing the widespread impact of the pandemic while being preoccupied with its own political survival.

PN may have done some good in the long battle against Covid-19, but whether it has done enough remains to be seen.