Coronavirus pandemic

Malaysian govt accused of double standards on social distancing rules

Malaysia's Deputy Rural Development Minister Abdul Rahman Mohamad (in blue shirt) says a gathering where a cake was presented to him by a group of people was unplanned and not meant to violate the country's movement control order. The photos sparked
A photo from the Facebook page of Deputy Health Minister Noor Azmi Ghazali (with red tie) showing him and Perak state Cabinet minister Razman Zakaria (left) n a visit to an Islamic school in Perak.PHOTO: GANGUTARA/TWITTER
Malaysia's Deputy Rural Development Minister Abdul Rahman Mohamad (in blue shirt) says a gathering where a cake was presented to him by a group of people was unplanned and not meant to violate the country's movement control order. The photos sparked
Malaysia’s Deputy Rural Development Minister Abdul Rahman Mohamad (in blue shirt) says a gathering where a cake was presented to him by a group of people was unplanned and not meant to violate the country’s movement control order. The photos sparked claims of double standards.PHOTO: CHERRY MNR/FACEBOOK

The Malaysian authorities have arrested 15,924 people for flouting the government's movement restrictions that started on March 18, with some of them kept in jail while awaiting their trial and others fined up to RM1,000 (S$325).

But when pictures of two deputy ministers and one Menteri Besar emerged last week showing them at three separate functions while apparently failing to follow social distancing rules, the police dragged their feet about what to do.

This has led to angry charges of double standards by the 11/2-month-old Perikatan Nasional government, as top officials and police have said those who breach the movement control order (MCO), which was into its 34th day yesterday, would be arrested and fined.

Deputy Health Minister Noor Azmi Ghazali and Perak state Cabinet minister Razman Zakaria were pictured sitting down to lunch with some 20 people in Perak, while Deputy Rural Development Minister Abdul Rahman Mohamad cut a cake, surrounded by his supporters in Pahang.

And Terengganu Menteri Besar Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar posted on Twitter a photo of his lunch with former Menteri Besar Ahmad Said in the latter's home, with the duo sitting at a table together.

Human resource executive Manjalani Kishin, 38, told The Straits Times yesterday: "How is this fair? Just because they're VIPs, they only get their statements recorded. But we Malaysians will be immediately arrested. It's not just about social distancing, they shouldn't have gathered in the first place."

The police were quick to act against the opposition, with MP P. Prabakaran from Parti Keadilan Rakyat yesterday taken to a police station for allegedly breaking the MCO.

Under the stay-at-home orders, no mass gatherings are allowed, and only one family member will be allowed to go out during the period to buy essential items such as groceries or medicine.

Unless they are "essential workers" or have special documents to be out of their homes, they would be committing an offence. Even if they have good reason to leave their homes, they are to practise social distancing and don face masks.

Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who gives daily news updates on Covid-19, has previously said violators would be arrested under the third phase of the MCO, between April 15 and 28, instead of just being given compound notices (monetary fines).

Perak police chief Razarudin Husain now claims social distancing was practised during the event in Perak involving the Deputy Health Minister. Terengganu police proceeded to only record the statement of Mr Samsuri instead of making an arrest, which created a bigger buzz on the Internet.

Mr Razman and Mr Samsuri have apologised for their actions, while Mr Noor Azmi has deleted the pictures on his Facebook account.

Ms Cynthia Gabriel, executive director of the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism, said: "The fact that they haven't been arrested and charged, unlike the many Malaysians who have flouted the MCO, points to a very disturbing set of double standards… one for those in power and the other for the regular tax-paying citizens."

Human rights group Edict said in a statement on Sunday: "Since the 'punishment' of 'handcuff, remand and imprison' has been meted out to thousands, including the abject poor, why are ministers spared? Shouldn't the (Attorney-General) advise the ministers they have contravened the MCO?"

Malaysia yesterday reported 36 new coronavirus cases, the lowest daily rise since the government imposed the MCO. The new cases bring the cumulative total to 5,425 cases. The Health Ministry also reported no new deaths yesterday, keeping total fatalities at 89.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysian govt accused of double standards on social distancing rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe