The government’s latest policy on Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for Chinese New Year Celebrations is a black-and-white contrast to the policy on SOPs for the economic sector where the former discourages the unification of family gatherings and devotees at temples while the latter promotes the assembly of crowds at a night market.
We call upon the government to re-evaluate this disparity in order to enforce policies with more parity across different sectors.
In light of this sensitive issue, the Government should consult and involve the Opposition in formulating pandemic policies to avoid blindspots, especially when the government is not multicultural in its composition. Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin should recognise that cross-party policy-making at a time of national crisis is a sign of political maturity and responsibility, not of weakness.
We stand our ground that the government should conduct an emendation to the recent policies which they have enforced in view of Chinese New Year Celebrations. Our problem-solving endeavours should not be a run-of-the-mill job, long-term visions are necessary to combat the Covid-19 pandemic while safeguarding our Rakyat’s needs and religious observances.
We need to bear in mind that Covid-19 is a multi-year pandemic, hence, Chinese New Year won’t be the last cultural or religious celebration that Malaysia will observe.
On that account, any SOP that we create for Chinese New Year can be applied to other celebrations such as Hari Raya in May, Kaamatan (Harvest Festival) in May and June, Deepavali in November, and Christmas in December, to name a few.
It is pertinent and vital that organising principles for SOPs in relation to festivities celebrated in Malaysia to be schemed thoughtfully and thoroughly.
Organising principles must include equality between ethnicities, faith, and cultures. While the prevailing epidemiological and public health climate will differ at different timepoints, the SOPs must be as equal as possible to allow fairness for everyone to practice their religious obligations.
Logic and proportionality are principal considerations as well. SOPs of different sectors must not contradict each other. For example, reunion dinners are not allowed but night markets are permitted to be in operation. This will create loopholes that will endanger public health.
Predictable SOPs has to be well-communicated as well. Malaysians have the capability to follow SOPs, however, prior information about the SOPs has to be given much earlier in advance. SOPs should allow for inclusive decision-making and be communicated earlier alongside reasons for the decisions made.
Announcing just the decisions alone without giving a rationale is counter-productive. Treat the Rakyat like adults, give them the justification for the decisions which affect them.
We urge the government to convene a group of experts to make proposals on SOPs for long term use in regard to festivities in Malaysia.
The focus should be averted to outdoor activities instead of indoor happenings. There is increasing strong evidence that adequate ventilation is of greater importance than cleaning surfaces to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection and spreading.
In principle, inter-state travel should not be allowed, however, inter-district travel should be allowed within limits which the Health Ministry should specify based on prevailing and current data.
If these were to be combined with other SOPs such as a reduced number of visitors and visits, shortened period of visits, outdoor settings alongside the use of facemasks, handwashing, and MySejahtera, we can make an allowance for cultural celebrations especially in the face of a multi-year pandemic.
To reiterate, we strongly encourage our current government and Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to reconsider the policies concerning the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations and other festivities to follow. It is possible to conduct meaningful cultural celebrations while adhering to SOPs and ensuring the economic operations is still in order.
Regardless whether we are the government or the opposition, we, as chosen representatives, are both serving the Rakyat and it is our duty and responsibility to obtain the best solutions to issues that matters to us all.
Wilfred Madius Tangau (UPKO Member of Parliament for Tuaran)
Donald Mojuntin (UPKO Senator from Sabah)
Ewon Benedict (UPKO Assemblymen for Kadamaian, Sabah)