Malaysia's states should ease coronavirus controls or risk being sued: Minister

Under the new rules which took effect from May 4, most businesses are allowed to reopen.
Under the new rules which took effect from May 4, most businesses are allowed to reopen.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's states have been urged to ease movement controls that have wracked the country's economy after most of them ignored a central government order allowing businesses to reopen from Monday (May 4).

"The state governments are urged to co-operate in executing the federal government's decision to regenerate the economy," said Minister for International Trade and Industry Azmin Ali in a statement issued on Monday.

Datuk Seri Azmin, who is also Senior Minister, warned that the state governments could be sued by various parties, including business owners, for refusing to implement the new rules, which have been gazetted into law.

"The government views seriously the position taken by the various state governments in refusing to execute the decision. Their actions are not founded on lawful authority and are contrary to the policy of the federal government," he said.

Nine of the country's 13 states have opted to retain stricter controls, which have shut schools and non-essential businesses, confined people to their homes and closed borders to tourists since March 18 in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the new rules which took effect from Monday, most businesses are allowed to reopen, while people can exercise outdoors and dine at restaurants, provided social distancing and contact tracing measures are implemented. Schools, however, remain shut and large social gatherings are still prohibited.

Several state government leaders have said they would not implement the new rules yet, over concerns for public safety.

The country's richest state, Selangor, which surrounds the capital, Kuala Lumpur, said it would first review how prepared the local authorities are to handle the resumption of business activities, including to enforce and monitor safety measures.

It, together with other states like Negeri Sembilan and Perak, have not allowed restaurants to operate dine-in services.

 
 
 
 

The federal government has also been accused of not consulting the state governments in advance.

Former Johor menteri besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin on Monday singled out a "senior minister in charge of economic affairs" as the problem, reported The Star.

Datuk Seri Khaled said this person, whom he did not name, failed to discuss and get a consensus from all state governments before announcing the new rules last Friday.

In his statement on Monday, Mr Azmin refuted the accusation, saying that the federal government's decision to reopen the economic sectors was taken with utmost care, based on data and findings from various bodies, including the Ministry of Finance and the central bank.

These findings, he said, were presented for discussion with the menteris besar and the chief ministers at a National Security Council meeting on April 28.

Mr Azmin stressed in his statement that the decision to restart the economy was based on benchmarks set by the World Health Organization, and that the country's national health system was equipped to protect public health and curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Malaysia reported 55 new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the total number of infections to 6,353. The death toll remained at 105.