KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Tuesday (Dec 21) acknowledged "weaknesses" in flood management as the blame game began over the slow response in the country to one of the most devastating floods in recent memory, particularly in opposition-ruled Selangor state.
"I don't deny (the weakness) and will improve in the future...The responsibility is not that of the federal government alone, but also the state governments and the front-liners," said Datuk Seri Ismail.
Critics have slammed the government for not taking the situation seriously when flood waters began rising precipitously, with questions being raised over whether bureaucratic foot-dragging also delayed rescue operations.
"The National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) only coordinates... if it is considered a weakness in coordination, I do not defend anyone in this situation, for me everyone must be held accountable," Mr Ismail was quoted as saying by the official Bernama news agency.
The Klang Valley, the country's industrial heartland in Selangor, has been inundated. Over 66,000 people have been displaced and at least 17 people are dead and several still missing nationwide. Eight of the 11 states in Peninsular Malaysia were affected by the floods. Adding to concern, 267 Covid-19 cases had been detected among evacuees as at Tuesday.
Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari said on Tuesday that the state had been preparing for floods since November but the unusually bad weather saw the amount of rain for one month falling in one day.
"It is not because we did not prepare but because (the rain we expected) in one month came in one day," he told a news conference.
He also said that he had contacted Mr Ismail and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein last Saturday night to seek military assistance.
"I called the PM hoping that all the federal assets would support us, and the PM said it is under Nadma," he said, adding that Datuk Seri Hishammuddin gave a commitment to deploy troops on the ground.
Datuk Seri Amirudin also announced a RM10,000 (S$3,240) payout for families of those killed in the floods, and RM1,000 for households affected, in addition to RM1,000 promised by the federal government.
At least one opposition party, the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda), has called for the resignation of de facto Special Functions Minister Abdul Latiff Ahmad, who heads Nadma, following what it criticised as a failure to coordinate rescue missions.
"We refer to several news reports stating the armed forces were deployed late to the flood disaster areas around the Klang Valley due to Nadma's failure to coordinate," Muda information chief Zaidel Baharuddin was quoted as saying.
"Some even reported that Nadma was somewhat reluctant to involve the armed forces for unknown reasons. Even Muda volunteers witnessed a lack of coordination by Nadma during the crisis in the following days."
Armed forces chief Affendi Buang said the military prioritised the safety of the people, in particular flood victims, and stressed that it was "always committed" to helping evacuate flood victims to shelters.
Other critics of the government slammed it for failing to plan for severe floods despite warnings.
Klang MP Charles Santiago, who is from the opposition Democratic Action Party and whose constituency was one of the worst-hit areas, said the rainfall was not unexpected.
"The maximum rainfall Klang used to receive in one day was 100mm. Now, we get 100mm in three hours," he was quoted as saying by The Malaysian Insight news website.
"We have already noticed this for the past two to three years."
He also pointed to non-profit organisation Climate Central, which had projected that most of Klang and the entire Selangor coastline would be below annual flood levels in 10 years.
Mr Santiago said he had raised the issue with the Selangor Works Department, the Drainage and Irrigation Department, and with the local authorities, but to no avail.
"Nobody is listening. There is too much personal interest that doesn't allow for long-term thinking," he added.
Meanwhile, Mydin Mohamed Holdings managing director Ameer Ali Mydin said he has forgiven looters who broke into the supermarket chain's Taman Sri Muda store in Shah Alam, Selangor.
"Honestly, I do not support their actions, but in an emergency situation, maybe they did not have a choice and were forced to do so in order to stay alive," he said in a statement.
The store is estimated to have suffered damage totalling more than RM1 million from the flood as well as the looting.
As of Tuesday, the flood situation has improved in most states, but the waters have been slow to recede in some areas despite a lack of rain.
The Meteorological Department on Tuesday issued a one-day continuous rain warning for Perlis, Kedah, Penang and Perak.
A tropical depression is currently moving towards the north of Peninsular Malaysia, it said.
"It can potentially cause flooding in low-lying areas in those states."
Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan wrote to his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah, on Tuesday to express his condolences over the deaths and devastation wrought by the floods.