Kuala Lumpur, 5 May 2020 – The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) welcome the government’s decision to relax the rules for the movement control order and provide the economy with much needed room to adjust and recover. We recognise that the implementation of the conditional movement control order (CMCO) is not a decision that was made lightly given the ongoing COVID-19 risk to public health.
The control measures in place thus far were able to contain the spread of Covid-19 and the medical system proved to be effective in handling the treatments; in fact, Malaysia recorded one of the highest recovery rates in the world (70.6%). The restarting of the economic system through CMCO is necessary in order to avoid irreversible woes to the production structure and to the employment situation.
But the CMCO announcement made by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on 1 May 2020 caught the public by surprise, not least the state governments. The Prime Minister had hinted at a prolonged period of MCO in his previous televised addresses while the MITI Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali had just allowed approved economic sectors to resume full operations one week ago. Confusion and fear arise if the relaxing of the movement control is premature in light of daily reports on confirmed cases of the coronavirus, albeit at an improved rate.
A better timeline might have been chosen, in order to get businesses and individuals to properly familiarize with the necessary standard operating procedures (SOPs), which at the same time needs to be clear and of simple implementation, to guarantee both compliance and smooth operations.
More importantly, disagreements between the federal and state governments on the perceived readiness for economic operations to fully resume starting 4 May 2020 raises the question if there was adequate consultation on the part of the federal government for exiting the MCO with a strategy.
There are several conflicting reports in the media as to whether the state governments were indeed consulted on the matter. It is possible they were briefed as to the federal government’s approach, but whether or not the states agreed is left vague. Public health, sanitation and the prevention of infectious diseases fall under the Concurrent List in the Federal Constitution 1957, which means both the federal and state governments are given equal authority to decide upon these areas. While the federal law of Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 exists, all laws must be applied in accordance with the Federal Constitution.
Clearly, there is a lack of consensus between the two tiers of government. Including states in the decision-making process is not just constitutionally required; it is also practical. Based on the principles of federalism and subsidiarity, the federal government should only decide on tasks that cannot otherwise be decided upon at a more local level. State and local governments have a greater knowledge of their communities’ situation in their respective areas, and with the information from the Ministry of Health on red and green zones, they would be able to make better-informed decisions and gradually relax restrictions by geographic zone, in accordance with exposure risk that may differ from state to state. States would be able to determine and clearly communicate an exit strategy jointly with the federal government, with the necessary support from all sides.
In the interest of public transparency on such an urgent issue, our leaders should put aside their political differences. Consultations on the Covid-19 crisis with state governments must be meaningful, and opinions are given equal weightage, as these decisions have major public health and economic implications.
The way in which the “exit strategy” will be defined, implemented, and managed is very much important in reshaping Malaysia’s level of competitiveness in the new normal for the global economy.