Malaysiakini
OPINIONS

MP SPEAKS | Confusing SOPs almost a week into 'total lockdown'

Ong Kian Ming

Published
Modified 7 Jun 2021, 4:38 am

MP SPEAKS | One would have thought that more than a year since the first movement control order (MCO) was announced in March 2020, this Perikatan Nasional (PN) government would know how to implement a full lockdown with clear and transparent standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Sadly, this has not been the case. Since the 'total lockdown' or full MCO started on June 1, almost a week ago, there has been more confusion and questions now compared to the first MCO. Here is a list of issues I compiled based on media reports and social media postings over the past week.

20 issues we are still unsure about a week into the full MCO:

1) We still don’t have a comprehensive list of which sectors or industries are under the jurisdiction of which ministry.

When the full MCO was announced, I issued a statement asking the PN government to make public a comprehensive list of the different sectors of the economy and which ministries are responsible for overseeing them. This list has not been published.

We need to know this information even though the issuing of approval letters has gone back to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti)'s Cims 3.0 system. This is because the approvals still have to come from the respective ministries and there is still confusion among the ministries themselves as to which sectors they are responsible for.

2) We still don’t know if restaurants are allowed to operate if they have not gotten an approval letter from Miti

One example is restaurants. Although food and beverages (F&B) are considered essential items and F&B is considered an essential industry, it is unclear which ministry is responsible for approving the continued operations of the many thousands of restaurants in the entire country.

The Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT) has said that hawkers only need to produce their license from the local authority to operate and will not have to wait for the Miti letter to continue to operate. But this has not stopped some irresponsible enforcement officers from pressuring hawkers into showing their Miti letter.

Some restaurants continue to remain closed even for takeaway meals because they have not gotten their Miti approval letter yet. I have received some reports that the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP) thinks that only franchise restaurants come under its purview but not the non-franchise restaurants. The National Security Council (NSC) has not clarified this issue at the time of writing.

3) We don’t know if those operating roadside stalls selling food and drinks can continue to operate without an approval letter from Miti

This is similar to the point above except that some of these stalls don’t operate with a valid license from the local authority. But how about those who have been given a temporary license to operate by the local authorities in KL and Selangor, for example, during the Covid-19 pandemic? Can they continue to operate? Are the enforcement officers clear on this policy?

4) We don’t know what criteria was used to ban the sale of alcohol but allow the sale of cigarettes

The Deputy Minister of Trade and Consumer Affairs was reported to have said that the sale of alcohol was banned because it is considered as a non-essential item but the sale of cigarettes would continue to be allowed to cater for the “cigarette addicts”.

Later on, Senior Minister (Security) Ismail Sabri Yaakob expressed his confusion over this statement since shops that sell beer such as 7-11 were still being allowed to operate. Some supermarkets then closed down the section of their operations selling beer and other alcoholic beverages to comply with the ‘instruction’ from the deputy minister. The Minister of Domestic Trade has not issued any public statement on this issue, as far as I know.

I am not advocating for a ban on cigarettes. What I am asking, like many other Malaysians, is consistency and clarity in government policies on the part of the government.

If the production and sale of alcohol are banned during the full MCO, has the government considered that opportunists will take the opportunity to make and sell illegal alcohol which will be much more dangerous to consumers? Or have we forgotten the deaths of those through methanol poisoning by consuming cheap and illegal alcohol back in 2019?

5) We still don’t know if automotive/car workshops are allowed to operate if they have not gotten an approval letter from Miti

Even though car workshops are listed as essential under the distributive trade category, it is still unclear which is the ministry that is supposed to give approval for these workshops to continue to operate.

The Ministry of Transport does not list auto workshops under the sectors that are under its jurisdiction for approval in its Smile application system. The Ministry of Domestic Trade is maintaining an elegant silence on this issue.

So many car workshops continue to remain closed. This means that those in the logistics sector needing servicing may face some challenges. And those who need to drive to work because they are working in the essential services sector must hope and pray their cars or motorcycles don’t break down or require major servicing.

6) We don’t know if those who are in the distributive trade sector and supplying the essential services are allowed to operate and from which ministry do they seek approval from

I know of someone who imports various types of PPE equipment to supply to the hospitals and Covid-19 quarantine centres in Malaysia. Without getting approval to operate, his company would not have been able to continue the supply of these essential items to the Ministry of Health.

He tried applying to the Ministry of Domestic Trade but the website and later, the Google form application, crashed. After trying various options, I was made to understand that his approval was finally granted. I am still unsure as to which was the approving ministry for his particular sector of the economy.

7) We don’t know if air-con maintenance and repair are allowed to operate and from which ministry they should seek approval to operate from

Critical maintenance and repair are listed as one of the 17 essential services during the full MCO but I think it only applies to the construction sector. What about other maintenance and service operations that are critical for the continued operations of other essential sectors?

For example, if the air-conditioning system at a hospital breaks down, we need those in the air-conditioning service sector to do their repair work. For factories producing food and beverages, they also need their air circulation system to be maintained.

In fact, one can say that given the airborne nature of the Covid-10 virus, the air-conditioning sector should be considered as essential especially for the servicing of commercial (including factories) and government buildings. We are also unsure which ministry the air-con sector comes under.

8) We don’t know if plumbers are allowed to operate and from which ministry they should seek approval to operate from

Plumbers are also important to ensure that the toilets in hospitals, factories, offices, and government buildings are “flowing” smoothly. But which ministry is in charge of approving plumbers to continue to operate under full MCO?

9) We don’t know if those servicing photocopiers and printers are allowed to operate and from which ministry they need to seek approval from

I also received a request from a company whose sales and marketing arm services the photocopiers and provides printing paper to many government ministries and agencies including the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Finance.

If such companies are not allowed to operate, the ministries and even hospitals, may not have the required paper to print their documents on and also would not be able to have access to photocopiers and printers which have broken down and are being left unrepaired during the full MCO.

10) We don’t know what criteria are being used to approve or not to approve those who are in the essential services supply chain

There should have been a clear mapping and understanding of the sectors and companies which are critical to the continued operations of the essential services sectors. This can be used as the basis of approving, not approving, or approving at a much-reduced capacity, companies that are part of this supply chain.

As of today, we have not seen such a mapping or heard any explanations from any minister with regard to the bigger picture surrounding the supply chain for essential services.

11) We don’t know how children are going to learn online when computer and telco shops are closed and the stationery section in the supermarkets are shut down

The Minister of Education recently announced that classes will continue to remain online when school reopens on June 13 and 14. But many parents who want to repair their laptops and handphones used by their children for online learning at home cannot do so because all of these services are shut down during the full MCO.

Even stationery sections of some supermarkets have been shut down, preventing parents from even buying stationery for their children to use at home.

12) We don’t know how people are supposed to Work From Home (WFH) if their laptops break down and their phones are damaged but IT and handphone shops are closed

Similarly, for those who have to work from home using their laptops and handphones, they better hope their devices don’t break down during the full MCO since none of the places which repair these devices are open.

(I had a problem with my laptop which could only be fixed at the HQ of the company and I was informed that this could only be done after the end of the full MCO. Thankfully I have the resources to buy a new laptop but what about those who don’t have the funds to buy a laptop during such an emergency?)

13) We don’t know how those people who seek treatments from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can continue to seek such treatments

I was also told that those seeking treatments from TCM shops cannot do so during the full MCO. The operators of the TCM shops cannot even go to their shops to pack packages of herbs to send to their customers as they are not considered an essential service even though they provide health and other related relief to their customers.

14) We don’t know why hair colouring is not allowed to be sold at pharmacies

Apparently, some pharmacies sealed up the section of their stores selling hair colouring as it is deemed as a non-essential item. I cannot understand why the selling of hair colouring at a pharmacy that is already open can be detrimental to our overall fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

15) We don’t know why the home improvement section in some shops e.g. Mr DIY are not allowed to be opened

Apparently, some sections of hardware shops that sell home improvement products have been cordoned off. I received a report via a tweet that a person couldn’t buy “hooks” for his bathroom from Mr DIY because this section had been cordoned off.

16) We don’t know how people are going to cook at home if some of their home appliances break down since electrical appliance stores are not opened and the sections selling some of these items in supermarkets are closed (e.g. rice cookers and kettles)

Household appliances such as rice cookers and kettles have their shelf life. Some may short circuit during the full MCO because of overuse. But we may not be able to buy their replacements because those shops selling electrical appliances are not open and the sections selling some of these items in some supermarkets have been cordoned off.

Of course, there is the option of buying these items online but delivery may take a few days and for some of the semi-urban areas, the preferred option would still be to go to the physical store to procure these items.

17) We don’t know how companies that are in non-essential sectors can continue to maintain their data centres in case of emergencies

I know of a company that is in the non-essential sector but has an important data centre that stores and processes critical information to the financial services sector. For these companies, they need to have one or two people on standby to access the data center in case there is an emergency or if the server breaks down (for whatever reason).

Is MDEC, the agency under the Ministry of Multimedia and Communications, that is in charge of data centre operations, aware of such issues happening?

18) We cannot understand why some companies were issued letters of approval by Miti but when the QR code for the company is scanned by the police, the details reveal that it is considered as a non-essential industry

This is a bit of a technical issue but is important in terms of preventing companies and their staff from being unfairly fined. Some companies which are listed as essential services suddenly find that they are not classified as an essential service when the QR code on their Miti letter is scanned by the authorities including the police.

This means that the employees of companies with this sort of letter can potentially be fined thousands of ringgit for violating the full MCO. The photos above show information from an optometrist which is not classified as essential under the QR code scan even though a letter from Miti has been issued to allow this optometrist to continue to operate under the full MCO.

19) We still don’t understand why jogging is allowed but cycling is banned

I appreciate the fact that jogging and exercising alone in our residential areas are still permitted. But I fail to understand why cycling alone is not permitted, especially if this person is cycling within a 10km radius of his or her home.

Furthermore, some people actually cycle to work (including some factory workers in my constituency) and some people cycle to the morning market to do their grocery shopping. Will they be fined for cycling by the enforcement authorities?

20) We still haven’t heard the following ministers come together and separately give a press briefing on the sectors under their jurisdiction - Miti, Home Ministry, Domestic Trade, Communications and Multimedia, Housing and Local Government (just to name a few)

I am not sure if a gag order has been issued by the prime minister to disallow ministers other than Ismail Sabri to have press briefings for the full MCO. But given the current confusion over the SOPs, shouldn’t the ministers from the key ministries (as suggested above) organise a joint press conference to clear the air? We wait with bated breath for this to happen.


ONG KIAN MING is the DAP MP for Bangi and a former deputy minister of international trade and industry.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.