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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 28 — Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin took the bull by the horns in his first year in office to keep a deadly pandemic at bay as he micro-managed to put food on the table for Malaysians and ensure no one is left behind.
The Prime Minister, who helms the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government, has procured the vaccine for the Covid-19 disease and provided up to RM300 billion in stimulus aid packages to ensure the survival of the people in a year of unprecedented difficulties.
In a special interview with several media organisations on his first year in office, Muhyiddin, 73, recalled the immediate challenges he had to face, especially the negative perception of the people towards him and, even worse, the demand by his political foes for his resignation purportedly over waning support from the MPs.
However, he ignored the odds and bad-mouthing and went ahead with his plans to take the country to greater heights, gaining more confidence among the people as he brought in the Covid-19 vaccine and he took the first shot to dispel any fear over immunisation.
Muhyiddin had taken over the leadership of the nation at a time when the world and country faced a difficult situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Insya-Allah (God willing), the Perikatan Nasional government completing one year in office with me as the prime minister is something that I had least expected, but it is all the will of Allah SWT (God),” he said in the interview at his residence in Bukit Damansara.
The interview was also carried on the Buletin Bernama news segment over Bernama TV and other television channels at 8 pm today.
Muhyiddin, who became Malaysia’s eighth prime minister on March 1, 2020, said he discharged his duties and responsibilities for the sake of the people and nation.
“I’m doing what is best for the nation. I know that I carry a trust. I have to fulfil that trust although I was not elected in a normal election. Somebody had the mandate but (following) a crisis, I was appointed (as the prime minister),” he said.
Muhyiddin found himself in an extraordinary position that demanded immediate action and a different approach by the government in comparison to previous governments.
He went to work to keep the Covid-19 threat at bay and ensure that the people had jobs and food on the table, and the economy, security and public order as well as unity were maintained.
Striving hard to manage the Covid-19 pandemic through the whole-of-society approach, Muhyiddin was determined to do the best for the people and nation despite the challenge of realising the desire for Malaysia to be a developed nation by 2030.
“I will do my best. I want to leave my legacy not for my own self, (but) for my country during my tenure. I’ll do the best for the country.
“So, that’s my commitment and I can tell Malaysians that I will be committed to upholding my responsibility as the prime minister. I’ll do my very best. I’ll fight against corruption. I’ll not interfere in any judiciary, (not) interfere in the courts. I will do what is best for the country. Insya-Allah (God willing),” said Muhyiddin, who is the MP for Pagoh.
In a straightforward tone throughout the interview, the prime minister explained the measures and actions taken by the PN government to address the Covid-19 pandemic through the whole-of-society approach which requires all quarters to work together with the government to handle the problem.
He said that via the committees under the National Security Council (MKN), Economic Action Council and other related committees, meetings and discussions were held daily to manage Covid-19 and its impact on the country.
Expressing gratitude over the smooth running of the government administration, he said civil servants were committed to carrying out their responsibilities and that security and public order were under control and unity was unaffected.
He also expressed gratitude to the people and advised them to remain united and resolute, and be together to face the pandemic.
Muhyiddin said the most immediate and extraordinary action of the PN government was to enforce the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18, 2020, followed by several levels of the MCO to balance the lives and livelihood of the people and every sector affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic struck the country on Jan 25, 2020, with the first wave of infections involving import cases. The second wave hit at the end of February 2020. The disease progressed to the third wave in the middle of September 2020. The number of cases kept rising to reach a height of 5,725 on Jan 29 this year.
In the interview of almost an hour, Muhyiddin, who is president of Bersatu, was asked a wide range of questions pertaining to the government and national administration, management of Covid-19, the economic stimulus packages and government initiatives to help the people, the people’s acceptance and achievements of the PN government, the Proclamation of Emergency, Malaysia’s foreign policy as well as his aspirations.
He was also asked about the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme which reflects the determination of the PN government to ensure the well-being of the people.
Muhyiddin was the first person in the country to be vaccinated against Covid-19, on February 24. He wanted to dispel any fear over immunisation against the disease. The Director-General of Health, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, also got vaccinated on that day.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Question: It has been a year since the Covid-19 pandemic struck the country. What action did the government take? Are you, Tan Sri, hopeful that the battle against the pandemic can be won with the arrival of the vaccine?
Answer: Although we were inexperienced in dealing with such an unprecedented situation, the past year has taught the government and the people what we should do to address this Covid-19 problem.
Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), we are still enforcing standard operating procedures (SOPs); we are imposing controls such as the MCO (Movement Control Order), CMCO (Conditional MCO), EMCO (Enhanced MCO) and RMCO (Recovery MCO). We have had many MCOs.
Alhamdulillah, these measures have enabled us to exercise control compared with other countries.
Alhamdulillah, now, after almost a year of relatively variable conditions, I wish to emphasise two important matters in the management of Covid-19.
Firstly, we have collected a lot of data, the statistics we have compiled, (such as) on the location of the cases, clusters in the community that we reported daily, because we adopted an open, transparent attitude, not concealing data. We wanted to tell the people the actual situation.
Secondly, our considerations were based on science, taking into account why we had to do what, because some members of the public may understand and some may not. Now, after almost a year, it seems that our decisions have been effective in addressing the problem and, on the average, the people’s acceptance has been good.
Additionally, we also consider in terms of data and cases, such as why (Covid-19) cases occur at workplaces or at the living quarters of workers. So, we know. Our decisions are based on scientific data and facts.
From one aspect, I feel we have succeeded in managing the Covid-19 problem. We have seen the impact on our economy. Everyone has felt the impact, to the extent of people being unable to work or losing jobs. Measures to manage the economy must be balanced between Covid-19 and the economy.
Closing businesses can cause the economy to collapse; keeping them open can invite Covid-19 infection. So, how do you strike a balance? Alhamdulillah, we held discussions daily.
Even with the ministers in attendance, I kept moving from the MKN (National Security Council) meeting on Covid-19 to the MKN meeting on the Emergency and the Economic Action Council meeting to manage the problem and discuss ways to help the people like how we have done so far.
Q: How do you, Tan Sri, see the government’s achievements? On a scale of 1 to 5, where do you place the PN administration’s performance upon evaluation? What is the achievement that you can be most proud of in the first year of your administration?
A: I cannot say that I have achieved a 5. It is important that the people evaluate whether the government has taken the necessary and appropriate measures to ensure that the major matters have been given attention and not neglected.
Secondly, there has been an impact, an outcome said to be most positive for the people. For example, there is a vaccine for Covid-19. I was the first (in the country) to take the vaccine. It is not just a matter of managing the problem.
Is the vaccine the solution to our problem? I hope so. For me, it is a huge success. We have rolled out (the vaccine). Don’t ask me the cost. I have never questioned the billions of ringgit spent to procure the vaccine. If there is a need for one more billion ringgit, I will provide the allocation because we are talking of people’s lives here. I regard even one death as a huge loss. I want the people to live.
In Malaysia, every single soul is important. Where do we stand? If you ask me, we are doing well. If there are people saying we have done the best, well and good. If there are people saying abah (father, in reference to the prime minister) is the best, well and good. That’s the people’s evaluation but more importantly it is what the government has done. For me, no one is left behind. It is important for the people to know that we pay attention, even down to the individual operating a stall.
The stimulus package that has been provided is almost RM300 billion. The previous administration provided RM20 billion. The people are saying the RM300 billion is not enough.
I would say that our achievement over the past year was quite satisfactory. The administration functioned well. We did not overlook anything major, including matters pertaining to the education, social, health, economic, security and unity aspects. We are giving emphasis to matters which need primary attention. That’s what we are doing now.
Q: A year has passed. What do you, Tan Sri, think of the people’s acceptance of all the initiatives implemented by the government with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic?
A: We conduct surveys. My officers also do analyses, analytics on the people’s reaction to everything that happens. I think, generally, they are satisfied in the matter of managing the Covid-19 pandemic. They don’t like it when the Covid-19 cases rise but are happy when the numbers fall. If you consider the whole year, I believe the people feel more comfortable and safer. That’s important for me.
Secondly, their livelihood. Do they have food on the table? I think that is important. Let there be no Malaysian who goes hungry. If that happens, I have failed. That’s why we have all kinds of direct aid, the latest being Permai, food baskets, cash aid, aid for business, capital. Now, we have reopened almost all sectors of our economy, save for one of two.
The people should be grateful, not because the government has acted in this way but because this is our effort together. I cannot succeed doing these on my own. The government officers cannot succeed doing these by themselves. However, with the combined effort of the government, people, officers and all quarters, we can succeed because this is what is called the whole-of-society approach, not just whole-of-government approach. It means everyone must work together to address the problems we face.
I feel, based on the numerous surveys that we have done, that the people are satisfied with what the government is doing.
Q: Tan Sri, you mentioned about no one left behind. In the span of one year, the government has provided all kinds of assistance. In the span of the next one year, do you think there will be people who may have been left behind, who may feel they have been marginalised?
A: That’s right. I chair the meetings of the Economic Action Council. I ask to be tabled the direction for aid that is going to be given to the people. In the context of the present national problems, among them due to Covid-19, the impact on the people is enormous.
I think those people whom we have categorised as B40, the lower 40 per cent, have become the B50. Probably M40 remains as M40. Ten per cent of the T20 has slid to becoming middle-income earners. I have to acknowledge this problem, not because of my actions but due to the problems facing the country.
That should be the focus from now. While we help the rest to recover, the economy to recover, to solve this Covid-19 problem, we have to look at this certain category of society that is most affected. Billions of ringgit in aid have been and are being given but it does not seem to be helpful enough. So, the strategy I have adopted is how to address the problem of poverty.
There are two categories – urban poverty and rural poverty. In the past, rural poverty was more pronounced as people in the cities could earn more. Now, urban poverty has a more severe impact than rural poverty because the urban people are unable to sustain themselves.
Almost 52 per cent of poverty is urban because a portion of these poor people are overlooked as our data system is not up to date. The poor are not entered in the records. While there are people who have received aid once, twice or even thrice, there are others who have not received anything at all. I find this in the system, which we have to update.
Then there’s the question of how to make the economy recover while addressing the Covid-19 situation. I see that the tourism sector is almost inactive because of the restriction on inter-state movement.
Once, we allowed inter-state movement and the highways were packed with people, going to Langkawi and elsewhere. I was happy.
However, soon after that we restricted inter-state movement. The minister (in charge of tourism Datuk Seri) Nancy (Shukri) appealed to allow inter-state movement. I wanted to do so but the Health Ministry requested to put it on hold. So, we had to consider. This is the worst of the sectors to be hit. Looking at projections, it may take two to four years to recover.
Other than that, we want to attract investments. Our studies show the people are worried that they may wake up one day to find they are unemployed. They may go to the office and find the employer saying ‘I’m so sorry, you have to go’. That will be a loss.
I have to take this into account. It is not just a macro issue; it is a question of national growth, development. Our GDP has shrunk. We hope it will increase. How can we make that happen? There must be investments flowing in, industries must resume operations, exports must rise. That’s the question of the economy. Then, the other sectors such as manufacturing, construction, agriculture and such must grow. All are affected.
So, we have to slowly look into this. How do we manage this thing? It’s more than just macro; it’s micro-managing every economic sector. This is what we have begun to do.
Q: The present government is more people-based, focusing on the people. Perhaps what you, Tan Sri, are saying could be made a manifesto. Besides the Shared Prosperity Vision, what else do you think can be done?
A: That’s what I explained earlier. What we are focusing on, what we want to see is the reactivation of all economic sectors from now on. They want to resume but there are problems with the bank. For example, if we go to the micro level, then we have to request the banks for help. We have gone ahead with the moratoriums, the EPF withdrawal, etc. We want to see our major economic sectors reactivated. The social and education sectors are among those severely affected. Schools have started to reopen.
Ministries have been instructed to focus more on matters that are related to the people, economy and business. For example, if there is too much bureaucracy and it takes months or years to get approvals, it will only foil our efforts.
I have instructed the Chief Secretary to the Government, as the chairman of a special committee, to determine the bureaucratic red tape that is causing delays. Things done in normal times are not applicable now. We have to amend or discard the old to expedite the process. These are drastic measures that we are taking at the federal level. We are also asking the states to assist to do things faster because the people cannot wait even a day. It can be torturous. They can fall into poverty, close their business. Reopening businesses is not easy. I understand all these.
We will focus on these although we have the Shared Prosperity Vision so that there is a balance in the distribution of wealth among the people. I am going to the extent of ensuring that we can rise again quickly. According to projections, there will be GDP growth going into the second, third and fourth quarters. Insya-Allah (God willing).
Q: Since the enforcement of the MCO for almost a year, have you missed meeting the people face-to-face?
A: Yes. The other day, I wanted to visit my constituency, Pagoh. My officers reminded me that the MCO is in force. We can meet virtually. The people are good at that. However, the impact is lost because we have to see them (face-to-face). That’s why we are focusing on finding ways to end the Covid-19 pandemic quickly.
Eventually we will only have the RMCO and then the MCO will be no more. However, we have to observe the SOPs until the epidemiologists and the Health Ministry tell us that the country is clear of Covid-19. We can then go back to doing things we normally do, shaking hands, hugging one another. That’s what we are looking forward to.
The plans that we have now are most important. I do not want the MCO and SOPs to be there forever. Once things are OK, not only I but the people too want to return to a normal life, being able to eat out, do business, engage in sports and recreation like what we have done before. But we cannot do all that until we can overcome the huge challenge our country is facing.
Q: The National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme reflects the determination of the PN government to ensure the well-being of the people in navigating through the difficult times of the pandemic. Many have expressed confidence over the vaccine. What are your hopes for the success of this programme?
A: I hope everyone who should be vaccinated can be given the vaccine. I have appealed for the people to come forward to register on the MySejahtera application, and not to be concerned, doubtful or afraid to do so. The government has decided that all our people can be vaccinated free. We will also vaccinate the foreign nationals residing in our country so that they do not spread the infection to our citizens.
So, now that is the decision. My hope is that all quarters will assist in the immunisation exercise so that we achieve our target of immunising 80 per cent of Malaysians and 100 per cent of those who should be vaccinated. I was informed that at least 60 per cent of the people must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Going by the initial response, according to a Health Ministry survey, 67 per cent of the people were agreeable to be vaccinated. Then the vaccine arrived, and I got vaccinated. The positive response for people to get vaccinated went up to 80 per cent. This is an encouraging trend.
However, the period for the immunisation exercise is long, up to early next year. If everything goes as planned and the vaccines we have purchased arrive on time, more people can get vaccinated and it will be for the good of all.
That’s why I see this vaccine rollout exercise as very important. It is the biggest ever rollout of vaccine campaign at any time in the country and involving everybody without exception. I wish to express my gratitude to the ministers concerned, KJ (Khairy Jamaluddin, Coordinating Minister for the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme) and (Datuk Seri) Dr Adham (Baba, Health Minister), the Health Ministry, DG (Director-General of Health Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah) and everyone else, including the logistics involving many quarters to drive our effort. The 600 vaccination centres and 50 vaccine storage facilities demand a great deal of work but right now everything looks good.
Q: We still have people who are the naysayers when it comes to vaccine, spreading fake news from social media about the vaccine. Do you see this as a bump on the road or big issue which should be tackled?
A: I admit there is some problem on this because in any society there is bound to be a group which disagrees, but my hope is that there will not be a big group influenced by the anti-vaccine campaign. The various issues raised might create anxiety, fear of dying which can discourage people from getting vaccinated, but what is important is the people’s readiness.
What the government is doing now is to help them; do not reject this effort. Like me, I now feel more confident. I’m not saying I’m safe already but at least I know that my body possesses antibodies to fight against any viral attack. But without it (vaccination), we can’t fight and will fall sick.
That’s why it is important to me, and I believe the campaign will be well received because we have mobilised all of society, NGOs, community leaders, village heads, the Rukun Tetangga (Neighbourhood Watch) sector, so that all involved can spread this good news and urge people to immediately sign up via the MySejahtera application.
Q: Being the Prime Minister, leading a country of 30 million people, even in normal conditions, is not easy. But to do it during a global pandemic, amidst political uncertainty, and for you personally, what motivated you to accept the challenge, and still drive you to continue every day?
A. It’s all by the grace of Allah (God). I never dreamt (that I will be the prime minister one day). But after I was appointed, I knew this is a trust, which is a big responsibility. I realised it is the most important post in the nation.
When entrusted with the responsibility, I know that as a Muslim I cannot ignore it. I will be questioned in the hereafter what I did for my people as the prime minister. How can I answer that?
I’m doing what is best for the nation. I know that I carry a trust. I have to fulfil that trust although I was not elected in a normal election. Somebody had the mandate but (following) a crisis, I was appointed (as the prime minister).
I must fulfil this sense of responsibility and trust. I cannot, as you know, neglect the responsibility and rest happily at home as the PM. I can tell you that from Day One I am here, being a PM one is thinking what can be done to save this country.
This motivation is for nothing else because you have to do it; you cannot fail. If I fail, the nation fails. If the nation fails, the people will suffer, right? That’s why it is a very heavy thing. Some people might envy you (for being the PM). It is not that I am not grateful, but this is a burden, a trust. I am tested. Every time I pray, I ask Allah to continue giving me guidance and to help me in my daily affairs. I have faith that everything can only happen if God allows it, InsyaAllah. This is my strong conviction to Islam, my religion.
Q: Final question, what is Tan Sri’s hope for the rakyat and Malaysia?
A: My hope is that Malaysia will return to normalcy like before; in fact, more than that to be an excellent and prosperous country enjoying rapid development. That is why I rolled out the MyDigital initiative and various other plans because, to me, once we have overcome this problem, we have finished an episode and need to look forward.
What is important is where Malaysia would be 10, 20 years from now. Compared with other countries, by right we should have been ahead but, unfortunately, Malaysia is still lagging. I accept it is our fault but that is our situation. Take China, Japan, Korea, for example. At one time Koreans came to Malaysia to study how to develop, but now they have overtaken us. Our per capita income is still small compared to that of other countries. Why is this so?
Poverty still exists in the country. To me, this is a big challenge. This is no trivial matter; that is why I am committed that you give me this job, I will do my best. And I don’t mean to boast but you can see my record that wherever I was placed, whichever ministry, I will do my best. I want to leave my legacy not for my own self, (but) for my country during my tenure. I’ll do the best for the country. That is why to me the important thing is, let’s all get together; there must be cooperation from the people with a strong spirit of solidarity and total commitment. And I believe we will succeed.
Malaysia will be among the most developed countries. We targeted to achieve developed status by 2020 but failed to achieve it. Now that we have the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, let’s see what happens in 10 years’ time. So, that’s my commitment, and I can tell Malaysians that I will be committed to upholding my responsibility as PM. I’ll do my very best; I will fight corruption; I will not interfere in any judiciary, (not) interfere in the courts. I will do what is the best for the country. Insya-Allah (God willing). — Bernama