KUALA LUMPUR - 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$326).
But when pictures of two deputy ministers and one menteri besar (chief minister) emerged last week, meeting people in 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 comments of double standards being practised by the one-and-half month old Perikatan Nasional government, as top officials and police have said those who breached 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 executive councillor Razman Zakaria were pictured sitting down to lunch with some 20 people in Perak.
Separately, Deputy Development Minister Abdul Rahman Mohamad cut a cake while closely surrounded by his supporters in Pahang.
Meanwhile, Terengganu Menteri Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar posted on Twitter of his recent lunch with former menteri besar Ahmad Said in the latter's home, with the duo sitting at a table together.
"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," human resource executive, Manjalani Kishin, 38, , told The Straits Times on Monday (April 20).
The police were quick to act against the opposition, with MP P. Prabakaran from Parti Keadilan Rakyat was on Monday 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 is allowed to go out during the period to buy groceries, medicines or food.
Unless they are "essential workers" or have special permission 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 practice social distancing and don face masks.
Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who gives daily news updates on Covid-19, has previously said MCO violators would be arrested under the third phase of the MCO, between April 15 and April 28, instead of just being given compound notices (monetary fines).
Perak police chief Razarudin Husain has now claimed that social distancing was practised during the event in Perak involving the deputy health minister.
Terengganu police only proceeded to record the statement of Mr Samsuri instead of making an arrest, which created a bigger buzz on the Internet.
Mr Razman and Mr Ahmad Samsuri have since apologised for their actions, while Mr Noor Azmi deleted the pictures on his Facebook account.
"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," said Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism executive director Cynthia Gabriel.
Asked human rights NGO, Edict, in a statement on Sunday (April 19): "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 AG (Attorney-General) advise the ministers they have contravened the MCO?"
Meanwhile, Malaysia on Monday (April 20) 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 reported no new deaths on Monday, keeping total fatalities at 89.
The ministry said on Twitter said 98 patients recovered from Covid-19 and were discharged, the eight consecutive day that there were more discharged patients than there were new cases.