COVID-19 mismanagement: Of cryptic messages and Cabinet infighting

By Abdul Rashid Hasnol

 

ONE would think that Senior Defence Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the public face in the Government’s out-of-control fight to contain COVID-19, would have more relevant content to put up on his social media than that of him closing the door to his office.

The June 1 posting on his Facebook page was accompanied by a caption, “I have closed the front door but..….”. The cryptic post had set tongues wagging over speculations that Cabinet is divided over the messy rollout of the lockdown rules to stem the spread of COVID-19, which has seen Putrajaya being ridiculed.

While Ismail subsequently asked the public not to read too much into the post, it was clear as daylight that the message was a swipe at his Cabinet colleague, Senior Minister of International Trade and Industry, Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s Facebook post

Azmin’s Ministry oversees the approval for exemptions for companies to operate during the 14-day lockdown starting June 1.

From the get go, the process was a mess of epic proportions, with the website being inaccessible for prolonged periods at first, and subsequently revelations of loopholes in the system that saw non-essential services like photography being allowed to operate.

In the end, over 128,000 companies with 1.57 million employees were allowed to operate, raising questions about what “total lockdown” the government was trying to implement with so many allowed to be out and about, possibly spreading the virus to all and sundry.

Ismail Sabri could be forgiven for venting his frustration in cyberspace. Indeed, through the many standard operating procedures (SOP) which he had announced over the months to cut the chain of the coronavirus transmission, another Ministry put paid to the efforts.

But beyond the bureaucratic turf war, there’s also an underlying political dynamics at play. Both are from different parties with Azmin from Bersatu and Ismail Sabri from Umno. Both are Senior Ministers and within striking distance of the still-vacant Deputy Prime Minister’s post, if not higher.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had said that he was prepared to fill up the post with someone from Umno if the party could come to a consensus on who it chooses to nominate. Ismail Sabri, being the most senior Umno official, is a frontrunner.

If that happens, Azmin would have his wings clipped, as he too harbours ambitions of replacing the embattled Muhyiddin, a cancer survivor.

While the political one-upmanship gathers pace and intensity, the public, already fuming over the government’s failure to check the rise in COVID-19 infections and deaths, is being pushed further to the edge with the poorly thought out SOPs. People are “dropping like flies” (to quote the president of the Malaysian Medical Association) over COVID-19 while the economy is grinding to a halt due to the latest lockdown, but the political elites are still playing childish political games.

In the midst of all these, Muhyiddin appears to have lost control in managing the worst national crisis in recent memory. The “full lockdown” which turns out to be anything but, and the economic stimulus package, Pemerkasa Plus, which was barely enough to keep the middle and lower income afloat, have been widely panned from a cross section of the society.

Meanwhile, we are less than two months away from Aug 1, the deadline set for the Emergency to end and subsequently polls to be called. Going by the current infection rates and the glacial vaccination plan, it is more than likely that the Emergency would be extended.

This allows Muhyiddin to buy time and not face a furious electorate. While his Cabinet member made a cryptic post about “front door”, Muhyiddin should be glad that his government is not about to be shown the door for now. But there’s no telling what his fate will be when polls are eventually called. – June 13, 2021

 

Abdul Rashid Hasnol is a FocusM editorial contributor

The views expressed here are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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