Letter to the Straits Times on 29 April 2020: “Seeking Official Clarity”

MARUAH submitted the following letter to the Forum Page of the Straits Times on 29 April 2020 in response to reports of Members of Parliament doing walkabouts in Channel News Asia. It has yet to be published.

I refer to reports of Members of Parliament doing walkabouts in Channel News Asia (MP Seah Kian Peng explains visit to market after Facebook post on ‘playing role of safe distancing ambassador’; 27th April) and The Straits Times (MP Chia Shi-Lu responds to criticism of Sunday walkabout; 14th April).

The MPs, from Marine Parade GRC and Tanjong Pagar GRC, were reported as saying that they were doing their walkabout to find out how people were coping and to encourage compliance to orders under the Circuit Breaker which was ordered on April 3rd and went into effect on April 8th. New laws – the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 and The Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020 – were put into place to give clarity on measures, on enforcements and on penalties. The PAP suspended the Meet-the-People’s sessions between MPs and residents on April 13th. These measures were also introduced at various stages by the multi-task force dealing with containment of Covid-19 infections and treatment of cases. Much education on safety and prevention had also been taking place, frequently, by staff, volunteers and the media.

By the laws enacted MPs’ work are not listed as essential service providers (https://covid.gobusiness.gov.sg/essentialservices/). These are provided for by front liners, healthcare workers on the ground, civil service officers, counsellors and support officers from various sectors and communities. There is also a website on legal and assistance measures for affected persons, during this challenging time (https://www.mlaw.gov.sg/news/press-releases/2020-04-20-covid-19-temporary-measures-act-provisions-relating-to-temporary-reliefs-to-commence-on-20-april-2020).
As such, one is hard-pushed to appreciate this extra support from the MPs at this time, putting at risk the containment efforts and themselves in flouting the Covid-19( Temporary Measures) Act 2020. Various members of the public and migrant workers who had been caught flouting this law, have been arrested, charged and most have been fined or errant migrant workers had work passes, revoked. Others , who posted on social media their activities that showed them breaking the law, were investigated and where appropriate, charged.

It is heartening, that yesterday ( April 28th) in Malaysia, two political leaders – the Deputy Health Minister and Perak’s executive council member – were both fined RM1,000 for violating Rule 6(1) of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases ( Measures Within the Infected Local Areas) Regulations 2020 under Malaysia’s Movement Control Order that began on March 18th. They had said earlier, they were visiting a health clinic to check on Covid-19 preparations in the area, had adjourned for prayers and later a meal. The politicians, who apologised, and their supporters were charged as their services were not essential.

No one is baying for blood here. But there cannot be a silence. There has been no clarification or course of action from the Ministry of Law, Ministry of Home Affairs, The Attorney-General’s Office or the Prime Minister’s Office. If a wrong has been done, the law applies equally, to anyone and everyone. And if there is no wrong done, the explanations given by the MPs – as it has been with others who were arrested and charged – must either be officially accepted or rejected.

Braema Mathi
Secretary, MARUAH

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