Emergency committee needs more professionals

The committee should consists of an equal number of govt and Opposition MPs, and experts from various sectors


THE independent committee that is expected to be formed to advise the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah throughout the emergency decree should comprise of more professionals and technocrats from various fields instead of just politicians.

Universiti Utara Malaysia’s Ghazali Shafie Graduate School of Government dean Assoc Prof Dr Rusdi Omar said it would be ideal if the independent committee consists of an equal number of government and Opposition MPs, while the experts are not limited to the health sector only.

“If there are five government MPs, then there should be five Opposition MPs. Even at the Parliament, it is difficult to ascertain how many MPs are in support of the government.

“I think it would be preferred to have the majority among the non-partisan members, which are the professionals. It may still pose a challenge if the majority is politicians,” Rusdi told The Malaysian Reserve.

He said now is the time for politics to “cool down” especially with the rampant Covid-19 spread.

He added that politicians must unite to think of solutions to fight the pandemic.

Rusdi said while an election seems to be the best resort to solve any political impediment, issues arising due to the Covid-19 pandemic should be resolved first.

He said the independent committee should include experts from sectors of health, economic and other important areas to assess and address the pandemic, as well as the emergency proclamation.

“The most important matter is health. They would also need to pay attention to economic issues because the country’s image would be affected in the eyes of investors due to the state of emergency.

“They need to explain and highlight what is the emergency and Foreign Affairs Ministry needs to play a pivotal role,” he added.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (picture) recently agreed to form a Health and Scientific Covid-19 Advisory Group that will advise the government on matters related to pandemic management.

Muhyiddin also invited professionals, who had sent him an open letter on Jan 7 on nominating suitable candidates who could be members of the advisory group.

Former special officer to Malaysia’s Science Advisor Sheriffah Noor Khamseah Al-Idid Syed Ahmad Idid said the government could consider setting up a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergency (SAGE) with roles, functions and memberships similar to the UK Experience.

Sheriffah Noor Khamseah, who is an innovation and nuclear advocate, and an alumna of Imperial College at the University of London, said the main group will be supported by necessary subgroups.

The main team need not be permanent as it only exists when necessary to support the government during the emergency and will disband once the crisis has been successfully addressed, contained or mitigated.

“In view of the fundamental importance of science for innovation and socio-economic development, and with a number of ministries with portfolios involving science, innovation and economy, there is an urgent need for coordination of inter-agency efforts to develop and to implement sound science and technology policies and budgets.

“The science advisors, such as those appointed in the UK, US and Korea assume this critical role,” Sheriffah Noor Khamseah said in a statement.

She said Malaysia introduced the post of a “science advisor” in the 1980s but had removed the post during the previous administration.

She said since the government has already appointed Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood as the senior advisor to the PM on public health, hence, the appointment of a special advisor to the PM on science or a science advisor is imperative.

The science advisor would lead inter-agency efforts to develop science, technology and innovation policies and to chair the SAGE.

Sheriffah Noor Khamseah was also once the special officer to the country’s first Science Advisor Tan Sri Dr Omar Abdul Rahman.

In relations to Covid-19 in the UK, Sheriffah said the SAGE brings together experts from across the scientific spectrum including epidemiologists, clinicians, therapeutics and vaccine expertise, public health experts, virologists, environmental scientists, data scientists, mathematical modellers and statisticians, genomic experts, and behavioural and social scientists.

Participants on SAGE and the expert groups come from over 20 different institutions who, in turn, consider research and original work from many sources including the Covid-19 Genomic UK Consortium, Imperial College London, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Manchester Epidemic Group and many academic, clinical and other groups.

Sheriffah Noor Khamseah said the government is not beholden to what SAGE says, and the evidence SAGE puts forward forms just one part of what the government could consider before adopting new policies and interventions during an emergency.

The SAGE in the UK is chaired by the government Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance and in health emergencies such as Covid-19 co-chaired where appropriate by the Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty.

It includes participation from Public Health England, Medical Director for NHS England, the Office for National Statistics, the National Health Service, the Food Standards Agency, Health and Safety Executive, and chief scientific advisors of government departments relevant to specific meetings or their scientific expertise.