KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian police on Monday (Dec 27) issued a statement to explain a controversy over a video that showed an ambulance and a Red Crescent vehicle being stopped at a road junction to allow a long convoy of vehicles of Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to pass first.
The emergency vehicles, like the Premier and his entourage, were in Hulu Langat, Selangor, one of the worst-hit districts in the recent floods.
While traffic police often stop public vehicles to allow vehicles with VVIPs to pass quickly, the incident raised the ire of Malaysians on social media and was seen as yet another example of top officials prioritising their much-photographed visits to flooded areas over actual flood-relief work.
In the widely circulated video, policemen could be seen stopping traffic at an intersection.
Some 20 large vehicles then drove through the junction, including a Proton Perdana - typically the Prime Minister's vehicle - and several Toyota Vellfires carrying VVIPs.
Selangor police on Sunday said the convoy was given priority to pass to "reduce the risk of road accident", The Star newspaper reported.
Selangor Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department chief, Superintendant Azman Shari'at, said the policemen on duty made the decision after determining that there was a collision risk.
The incident took place at around 11.30am on Sunday (Dec 26) when Datuk Seri Ismail's convoy was heading towards Masjid Al-Mustaqqim in Hulu Langat.
"During the situation shown in the video, traffic police decided to stop the other vehicles, including a Malaysian Red Crescent Society four-wheel drive and an ambulance, from exiting the intersection in order to prevent the lead vehicle of the convoy from colliding with oncoming traffic," Supt Azman said, as quoted by The Star.
He said the decision was made after assessing that the distance of the lead vehicle was close to the intersection.
"The action was in accordance with the provisions under Traffic Rule No. 9 LN 166/1959 of the Road Transport Act 1987," Supt Azman said in a statement on Monday (Dec 27).
"As soon as the convoy passed, traffic police immediately gave way to the ambulance and 4WD to pass through. This was done after ensuring that it was safe for them (to proceed)," he added.
Much anger has been vented against the government in the past week for its slow response in helping people trapped by floods in seven states and the Kuala Lumpur federal territory, after what has been officially called a one-in-100-year flood.
Others have claimed on social media that several top government officials who turned up after the floods were more interested in getting their visits photographed and recorded on video, to show that they were "on the ground", rather than assisting in actual relief work.
Women affairs Minister Rina Mohd Harun has received much flak for turning up at a relief centre in Salak Tinggi, Selangor, last week and using a water jet on an already clean floor outside the building, surrounded by media photographers and cameramen.
She was slammed for wasting water there instead of going to any of the thousands of mud-caked homes around the country that needed to be cleaned up.
The Social Welfare Department (JKM) that arranged her visit said: "JKM feels that it is unfair for netizens to make accusations and belittle the efforts and involvement of Datuk Seri Rina in this clean-up operation."