SINGAPORE: Malaysia’s deputy ministers came under intense criticism on Monday after some of them were caught defying strict lockdown measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country.
“Investigations are still being conducted, and the report is expected to be ready today. All cases such as this one will be investigated, and action will be taken,” Abdul Hamid Bador, inspector-general of police, told Malaysian state media Bernama on Monday, as police probed the alleged Movement Control Order (MCO) breach by the officials.
Among the officials was Deputy Rural Development Minister Abdul Rahman Mohamad, who was photographed at a birthday gathering last week, breaking social distancing rules.
Speaking to Malaysia’s The Star on Sunday, Mohamad said that the event was “unplanned” and that he “did not want to chase them away,” referring to the other partygoers.
Another set of Facebook photos, which also went viral over the weekend, shows Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr. Noor Azmi Ghazali and Perak State Exco member Razman Zakaria attending a function at an Islamic school.
Zakaria has since apologized on his Facebook page for flouting the rules. That was not enough to appease angry netizens on Twitter and Facebook, however, who questioned whether politicians were immune to the country’s strict lockdown order.
“When deputy minister breaches the MCO, the moral thing to do is for him to resign. Have some dignity. Please,” Twitter user @Burhanudeen said.
Others questioned whether the officials were setting a precedent by defying the lockdown.
“So do the people needs to listen and comply with MCO when politicians can do as they wish? Maybe everyone should celebrate birthdays and anniversaries?” Twitter user @4thepeople15 asked on Monday.
Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad weighed in on the debate.
“It seems some of those holding government position are deemed ‘more special’ than others when they violate the MCO. The government should set a good example,” he said in a video message on Saturday.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is under pressure for his Cabinet’s lackluster performance and inexperience in tackling the pandemic crisis.
The alleged acts of defiance are the latest controversy to plague the two-month-old Perikatan Nasional Cabinet.
Malaysia has one of the strictest lockdown measures in Asia, with those violating the MCO liable for arrest and a fine of up to $250, jail time of up to six months, or both.
As of Sunday, police have arrested 15,924 violators, while the “red zone” — or high-risk area for contracting COVID-19 — has been placed under an enhanced MCO, with heavily guarded entrances preventing movement within it.
Malaysia is undergoing the third phase of its MCO, which was imposed on March 18.
As of Monday, there were more than 5,425 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, with 89 deaths reported.