KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 32 — What a year it has been.
Internationally, the Covid-19 pandemic continued to dominate headlines and front pages — from anti-mask ‘Karens’ going viral on social media to the emergence of a newer, deadlier strain of the Covid-19 virus.
This was also the case in Malaysia, as a check done by Malay Mail on what piqued our readers’ interest the most this year revealed.
However, politics continued to whet our readers’ appetites too, such as Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman’s mishandling of the LRT crash press conference and the resignation of Malaysia’s eighth prime minister.
Below is a snapshot of Malay Mail’s 10 most-read stories of 2021:
This story came up tops for Malay Mail in 2021, and even now, fully illustrates the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the country’s economy.
On January 24, the EU-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Eurocham Malaysia) issued a letter informing its members of an impending economic shutdown should the number of Covid-19 cases in the country not show any significant decline.
The authenticity of the letter was confirmed to Malay Mail by an inside source linked to the organisation and detailed a summary of Eurocham Malaysia chief executive Sven Schneider's meeting with the International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti), during which it was mentioned that the Ministry of Health (MoH) “has made a clear stand on the matter of a complete shutdown of the economy”.
Eurocham Malaysia later denied that Putrajaya was considering a full economic lockdown, adding that the memo was meant for its members and came after an informal meeting with Miti.
Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob — who was then senior minister of defence — announced on February 1 that the government would not be imposing a strict lockdown or curtail economic activity to avoid causing further financial difficulties to lower-income groups.
This story detailed the plight of more than 800 foreign students attached to LimKokWing University of Creative Technology (LUCT) after the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) revoked the accreditation for eight courses that they had taken.
During a press conference at the DAP headquarters on May 3, two student representatives from LUCT expressed their concern for their professional future because of “LimKokWing’s inability to maintain certain requirements and standards set by the relevant authorities”.
Former deputy education minister Teo Nie Ching — who was present at the press conference — said that the programmes the students had signed up for were fully accredited, but then revoked due to the unsatisfactory quality of the course and suggested that the school take immediate action to rectify the situation.
LUCT later said it was taking steps to restore the accreditation for its programmes and had been given 30 days following a “recent” audit to amend and resubmit the eight programmes for accreditation.
In September, it was reported that 10 international students were seeking RM5 million in damages from their alma mater.
Malay Mail’s third-most popular story of the year was the reaction of Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman to one of our reporters who had contacted him for comment on his immediate termination from his position of former non-executive chairman of Prasarana Malaysia Berhad on May 26.
After Malay Mail sighted an immediate termination letter dated May 26 signed by Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, Tajuddin told Malay Mail that he had not received an official letter from the ministry, but seemed to not mind the termination.
“Not yet. Want to terminate, terminate then. What is the issue? What is the matter? Want to terminate, terminate lah. Thank you lah. I can do other work,” he said over the phone.
He also had this to say when this reporter identified her organisation: “Malay Mail? Isn’t Malay Mail dead already?”
The letter came on the heels of a public campaign calling for the sacking of Tajuddin from the government-linked company after his disastrous handling of a press conference to address a two-train collision on the LRT Kelana Jaya line at KLCC that injured over 200 passengers, including six whose condition was listed as critical.
The two LRT trains, one manned, the other autonomous, collided on May 24 at about 8.45pm in a tunnel between the KLCC and Kampung Baru LRT stations.
Pictures and videos of the immediate aftermath, showing many of the injured, quickly made their way onto social media and were widely shared.
It comes as no surprise that stories involving the various movement control orders (MCO) in Malaysia feature on this list.
Hours before the implementation of the second MCO on January 12 — or MCO 2.0 — Miti released a full list of companies allowed to operate throughout the period.
For context, MCO 2.0 was slated to last from January 13 to 26 in Selangor, the Federal Territories (Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Labuan), Johor, Penang, Sabah and Melaka, but was extended to other states. It eventually came to an end on March 4.
Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali said the government had decided to allow five essential economic sectors to continue operating during the MCO period in the initial six states put under lockdown as they were key drivers of Malaysia’s economy and collectively contribute to 66.3 per cent of the country’s total gross domestic product (GDP).
These sectors were factories and manufacturing, construction, services, distribution businesses, and plantations and commodities.
On March 5, Selangor, Johor, Penang and Kuala Lumpur exited the MCO and entered the conditional movement control order (CMCO) — following the launch of Malaysia’s National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP), that had commenced the previous week.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a state of Emergency was declared in Malaysia — with Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah consenting to it on January 12 after meeting with then prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
The state of Emergency in the country lasted until August 1, except for Sarawak — where it ended on November 3, which also paved the way for Sarawak’s state election to take place.
The King also received briefings from Chief Secretary Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali, Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Election Commission Chairman Datuk Abdul Ghani Salleh, then inspector-general of police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador, and Chief of the Malaysian Armed Forces Tan Sri Affendi Buang.
The decree came just a day after Putrajaya announced a new MCO affecting six states for two weeks that began on the same day (refer to the story above).
The months following the decree saw Malaysians being stuck at home, unsure of when things would return to normal, keeping families apart and decimating the country’s economy.
Prior to that, Muhyiddin had pleaded with the King for a state of Emergency to be declared in October after Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim claimed to have gained the support of “over 120 MPs” to take over the government.
On May 24, the first involvement of private hospitals in the country’s National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) was announced, with ProtectHealth Corporation chief executive Anas Alam Faizli saying that 12 private hospitals would begin operating as Covid-19 vaccination centres (PPVs).
He said that a total of 2,250 vaccine doses would be available as a start and would be free just like those at government PPVs.
This was among the first initiatives carried out by the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF) to boost Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccination rate.
On September 21, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that 80 per cent of Malaysia’s adult population was now fully vaccinated against Covid-19 — a main target of the NIP.
At the time of writing, 78.4 per cent of all Malaysians have been vaccinated against Covid-19, and the Ministry of Health (MoH) is projecting that the 80 per cent mark will be hit on August 22, 2022.
This story detailed how a former manager for the government agency Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) was awarded over RM800,000 after the Industrial Court found the agency guilty of unfair dismissal, after nearly two years of court proceedings.
The claimant — Thomas Kuruvilla, who worked at MDEC from September 2007 to May 2018 — was awarded a total of RM810,628, to be paid within 30 days of the award date.
During the course of the trial, which began on February 28, 2019, MDEC argued that Kuruvilla’s work performance began to deteriorate from 2015 onwards, forcing the agency to place him under several performance improvement plans (PIP) which lasted until 2017.
Despite guidance given to the claimant to achieve his job scope and key performance indicators, MDEC eventually rated the ex-manager’s performance as unacceptable with failure to make the necessary improvements, leading to his dismissal in May 2018.
Kuruvilla claimed that he was not a poor performer and should have never been placed under the PIPs, adding that in the new department, he was given multiple objectives unrelated to his job scope, made subordinate to several other different managers, given limited or no guidance at all, and at times, placed in humiliating circumstances.
The court deemed the company’s cumulative conduct not to be in aid of bettering Kuruvilla’s performance, but instead driven to cause its deterioration instead.
To this, it ruled that MDEC failed to prove on the balance of probabilities that his dismissal from employment was done with just cause or excuse.
Kuruvilla’s awarded sum included 24 months of back wages totalling RM572,208, and compensation in lieu of reinstatement for 10 months totalling RM238,420.
In keeping with the overall preference for MCO-related news, number eight on our list is a story on Muhyiddin’s special address on Covid-19 prior to the announcement of MCO 2.0 on January 11.
At the time, new daily infections were just above the 2,000-mark, relatively low as compared to what was to come.
The next day, Muhyiddin announced that the country would be entering MCO 2.0, slated to begin on January 13 and end on January 26.
Prior to his announcement, Malaysians were anxious to learn if Muhyiddin would make the drastic decision to send some states back into lockdown, after drafts purporting to show the government’s preparations and planned standard operating procedures (SOPs) began circulating online.
One of the few stories unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic, number nine on this list described how the Negri Sembilan Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JHEAINS) had conducted a spot check on a kopitiam located in Kuala Pilah.
The spot check was conducted following complaints that many Muslims were frequenting the kopitiam.
Enforcers said their checks found that the restaurant did not have a halal certification, and urged Muslims to avoid patronising food premises with no such certification.
While JHEAINS did not name the premises, it was understood to be Kedai Makanan dan Minuman Sinaran — a famous local Hailam kopitiam — located on Jalan Yam Tuan Raden which has been in operation since colonial times.
The kopitiam, which dates back to the 1940s, does not serve pork, and its daily menu includes the usual kopitiam fare such as kaya toast, boiled eggs, nasi lemak, fried noodles, and an assortment of kuih.
The enforcement agency, however, admitted that the shop did not fall under its jurisdiction that only covers Muslims, nor did it have any power to stop Muslims from having their meals there.
Our last story on the list was on Muhyiddin becoming the country’s shortest-ruling prime minister on August 16 after the Pagoh MP confirmed that his Cabinet had tendered its resignation to the Agong.
In the lead-up to this day, Muhyiddin faced mounting pressure from both his political opponents and the public angered by a worsening public health crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
On August 16, Muhyiddin addressed the nation and announced that he would be stepping down as prime minister, and was appointed caretaker prime minister until his successor could be chosen.
Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob was sworn in as Malaysia’s ninth prime minister on August 20, after 114 members of Parliament proved to the Agong that he had their support.