A nation under physical and mental stress

A state of fear, anxiety and trepidation has descended on the Malaysian public.

This ominous atmosphere was brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic which threatened the health, lives and livelihood of the people.

In response to the pandemic, a series of movement control orders were enforced, resulting in economic chaos, physiological trauma and mental health aberrations.

In addition, the authorities implemented a slew of regulatory measures that curbed physical movement and expression of the people to ensure compliance to the standard operating proceduers (SOPs), presumably to check the spread of infections.

One is the initial fine of RM1,000 for non-compliance, which for the B40 and M40, puts a heavy strain on their livelihoods. They are already in dire straits just to survive.

But the latest 10-fold increase to RM10,000, and the way it is enforced is punitive and draconian. A single fine of RM10,000 is equivalent to almost a year’s salary for the lower income group and three months’ income for the M40, negating the authority’s slogan of “prihatin”.

Even though the actual amount of the compound “does not exceed RM10,000” (especially for first-time offenders) and there is an avenue of appeal through the district health department, the people were in the dark as to the nature of violation as there was no delineation of fines for the category of SOP violation when it was introduced on March 11. It was just a blanket compound of RM10,000 that was only clarified, to a certain extent, by the decision-makers last Wednesday.

The people are, thus, at the mercy of the health department. This causes anxiety and fear as for some, even a reduction of 50 per cent for payment within the first seven days after being compounded, would still be too much for them.

The politicians and policymakers were merely thinking of enforcing compliance to the SOPs when they gazetted the amended ordinance without considering the hardship imposed on the people.

Policies should be designed to be tempered with merciful consideration and not just foisted on the people without considering their ramifications.

Coupled with the withdrawal of Employees Provident Fund (EPF) savings, the people’s current and future existence is precarious to say the least.

The emergency, purportedly in response to Covid-19, is another cause for concern for it generates fear and anxiety as it gives the executive almost absolute power to impose regulatory measures without being accountable and going through the scrutiny of Parliament, which is suspended.

Thus, the people have no recourse to institutional avenues that represent their interests as they have become non-functional in an emergency. Their democratic rights are being challenged and undermined.

The Fake News Ordinance, which came into force on March 12, exemplifies the erosion of democratic principles and right of expression.

Although it was meant to curb fake news on Covid-19 and the declaration of emergency, it could be expanded to regulate other matters as well.

In this situation, what is gospel and what is apocryphal will be determined by entities that favour the official version. Differing views and opinions may be not be tolerated and consigned as fake news.

No one knows the parameters of what is fake news; it is vague and could definitely lead to abuse.

Earlier on there were cases which impacted the freedom of expression. One is the caricature of the health minister that has no malicious intent but only implied that he was not visible.

In fact, it could be dismissed as inconsequential and that the minister, in good faith, takes cognisance of what the caricature implied instead of taking umbrage.

Unsavoury remarks should not be tolerated but there should be a spectrum of toleration to engage the perpetrators of such remarks in an effort to educate rather than to summarily dismiss them.

Likewise, the legal suit by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin against Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Dr Mohd Puad Zarkashi over the latter’s comments on the three-day quarantine accorded to the ministers betrays intolerance for the right of the people to criticise public officials as well as their actions that affect the people’s lives.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The High Court has set May 24 to hear an application by Muhyiddin for an inter parte injunction, as well as an application from Puad Zakarshi to set aside an earlier ex parte injunction that prohibits him from repeating the contents of an allegedly defamatory Facebook post).

To criticise and hold public officers accountable is part and parcel of democracy.

All of these restrictive actions and punitive measures, as well as court injunctions and rulings, have created a climate of anxiety and fear for the people, who feel terrorised and whose recourse for redress has been severely curtailed and their voice muted with the suspension of Parliament under the emergency, which exempts the executive from any form of accountability.

It is sincerely hoped that the Covid-19 vaccination programme will greatly reduce infections and hasten recovery, leading to the emergency lifted sooner than scheduled and that Parliament will be in session. It is hoped that the punitive regulatory measures for SOP non-compliance are also phased out or ameliorated.

Such measures would reduce the physical and mental stress of the people and reassure them that their democratic rights are respected. This would enable the government of the day to regain the trust and confidence of the people.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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