By Xavier Kong

IN times of a crisis, there is definitely something to be said about a clear chain of command. A designated leader passing along orders clearly, with the leader’s officers and staff following those orders.

Clear lines of communication remain necessary as well, to make sure the transmission of orders is clear, concise, and complete, otherwise we would be looking at a game of Chinese Whispers, with one person passing along one thing, and the message ending up totally garbled and unrecognisable by the time it gets to its end recipient.

Wait a moment, this sounds familiar. Ah! This sounds almost like how our own government is acting right now! (Seriously, look at it).

First of all, when it comes to communications about Covid-19, we are seeing Director-General of Health Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah presenting daily updates on the situation in Malaysia. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing, as it keeps people informed and updated.

At the same time, we have higher level communications coming from Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who provides an overall direction to the country in terms of what is happening through his announcements.

Unfortunately, here’s where we start getting the crossed signals. First, let me say that it is utterly unfortunate that we have ministers in the Cabinet who are intent on mucking things up for the administration.

As people are worried about putting food on the table and keeping their jobs, a certain deputy minister of women and family development talks about a shariah-compliant dress code for Muslim air stewardesses. Mind you, this came at a time when the airline industry was taking a bit of a dive thanks to Covid-19. Pretty sure the stewardesses were more concerned with putting food on the table at that time, as were all of the other airline staff. The timing sucks.

Then, we have Dr Noor Hisham’s boss, who has very cleverly declared on television that “drinking warm water” will kill the virus. This has drawn the minister so much flak and criticism, and yes, even mockery, that a learned man would repeat something off social media without checking his facts. From this, I can honestly say I understand why Dr Noor Hisham is the one giving the updates.

Remember what was mentioned earlier about a chain of command and clear communications? This right here is a clear view of the chain of command breaking, rather than the chain of infection, along with a game of Chinese Whispers going on at the same time garbling the message the administration is presenting to the people.

It seems contradictory and hypocritical when you have the prime minister saying things like “Hopefully no one will be left behind” when barely two weeks before, when Covid-19 was already rearing its head and the people were already starting to react to it, there was the insensitive message over airline stewardesses.

The same thing could be said when the government is trying to impress on Malaysians the danger and magnitude of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we have Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba talking about warm water killing the virus, making it out as a trivial thing that Malaysians should not be worried about.

Though the right recognition should be given to Muhyiddin for doing the right thing in ordering the Movement Control Order (MCO), extending it to make sure it works, and announcing the bad news while updating Malaysians, there are some things to be said as well.

Honestly, a crisis such as this is usually a good time, a golden opportunity for someone to show leadership, but he pretty much wasted that first impression when the mixed signals were sent out.

Case in point is the initial announcement of the MCO. There have been rumours floating around since the Friday before, with Malaysians worried that there would be a full lockdown announced. Instead of addressing these concerns, the administration took the stance of “Wait for the PM’s announcement on Monday night, something big will be announced.”

Really? Is there such a need for secrecy? Does the administration not realise the effect these words would have on a population that is already scared and worried? Apparently not. As such, cue the three days of frenzied panic-shopping and the stocking up of groceries.

Unfortunately, when the announcement finally did come, the lack of details was yet another piece of work. Yes, we understand the government has never faced a global pandemic before, but does that not further highlight the need for clear, concise, and complete information?

A peer described the Covid-19 situation as “a low-hanging fruit for Muhyiddin to show that he can do a decent job, but it has instead become a missed opportunity!”

At the time of writing, there is word that there will be an address by the prime minister sometime today (March 27). The time has been set for 3pm.

Of course, there is also no indication as to what the announcement will be about, and worries are beginning that this would be the announcement transitioning the partial lockdown of the MCO to a full lockdown, partly because the defence minister announced yesterday the MCO will be enforced more stringently. Needless uncertainty.

To our frontliners and essential services, a heartfelt thank you. To our administration, please, for the love of Malaysia, fix the crossed signals and know who is announcing what. — March 27, 2020

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