By Anifah Aman
KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia--Former Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman proposed that the government should form three main committees which are a Medical Committee, Economic Committee and Security Committee with each Committee must be headed by experts in their respective fields. The leader must be given a free hand to nominate their members which should be comprised of government administrators, academicians, and mar-ket players to formulate health, social and political responses to better at combatting the COVID-19 situation in the country.
These Committees must be made up of Malaysians regardless of Race or Religion and will be responsible in providing better solutions and would present to the relevant Cabinet Ministers however the Committees may engage International experts to assist. “Continu-ous lockdowns and economic restrictions which seems to be the only solution for the Government does not work and it is time for the Government to allow the relevant people to assist”, he added.
He also said that vaccination as a health response which has been undertaken by the government thus far, needs to be revamped. “In order to increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in the country to achieve herd immunity, the Government must also allow a free market for vaccines which would then be available to everyone.
“The current vaccination program is very bureaucratic and involves many government agencies with overlapping functions and it seems that the government is only interested in seeing the number of vaccine registrations increasing instead of the number of people vaccinated,” he said.
“People have come up to me and said that there have been registration drives everywhere but people have yet to be vaccinated,” he added.
“Currently, vaccines are provided by the Government. Even private hospitals administer-ing vaccinations get their supply from the Government. Why can’t there be a free market where any medical practitioner can vaccinate the people? Even if people must pay for it in private practice, people would because they know the severity of the pandemic,” he added.
The former Kimanis MP said that by allowing a free market for vaccines, the number of vaccine supply in the country would increase as people do not have to depend on the sole government appointed vendor to supply the vaccines. Although there has been an increase in supply by the government, the number of citizens being vaccinated must rise quickly therefore a better distribution system must be provided.
“There are many types of vaccines available which are approved by the WHO. There are villages here in Sabah where people have to wait for their jabs because they are told to wait for a certain type of vaccine which has yet to be received by the government. This is definitely different from countries such as Turkey for example. Not only are citizens able to get vaccinated at any certified clinics quickly, but they are also given the freedom to choose the type of vaccination they wish to receive”, Anifah said.
“A free market solves the problem as many medical suppliers can purchase any type of vaccines and they can be distributed to as many medical practices as possible,” he said, adding that government hospitals and clinics should be able to make purchases of vac-cines on their own.
“Factory owners too must also be held accountable and responsible to ensure that all their workers are fully vaccinated. Proper enforcement by the authorities must be carried out to ensure that these factory owners abide by the regulations,” he added.
Anifah also said that to better combat the pandemic, all stakeholders must rally behind frontline healthcare workers.
“With the surge in cases, the only way to prevent overwhelming the system is to take into account a few practical matters such as to increase financial support to public hospitals so that they can better deliver necessary health care services,” he said.
He added that with the expectation that there would be an increase of vaccine supply beginning this month, the public health infrastructure must also be strengthened.
“There must be a coherent testing and tracing strategy to accompany the current vaccina-tion program,” he said, adding that while vaccination is yet to be mandatory, it should be in some industries such as for factory workers where many COVID-19 clusters occur.
Anifah also said that despite all the proposed changes, the health response will not work well without formulating a social response.
“The pandemic does not only affect the realm of health. It affects our social realm when it affects our livelihoods.
“In practical terms, this means more direct government aid to the poor and to the
middle class who are increasingly affected.
“This aid must be supplementary (as opposed to merely allowing citizens to make with-drawals from the Employees Provident Fund) and not means-tested (which will allow the middle class to benefit while preserving the dignity of recipients and reducing administra-tive costs).
“Given that interest rates are at historic lows, the government should borrow where nec-essary and raise the statutory debt-to-gross domestic product ceiling if needed,” he added.
On the political response, Anifah said that there should be three guiding principles in en-suring good governance in combatting the pandemic.
“Firstly, race-based politics must be put aside in favor of the politics of policies,” he said adding that policies that benefit ordinary Malaysians should be discussed and imple-mented.
“Secondly, politicians must also accept that they are not professionals in any given field, and that they must therefore cede ground to experts on health, economics, public admin-istration and disaster management.
“Thirdly, politicians must provide leadership by example, and observe the same pandemic rules as ordinary citizens. It’s in their self-interest to be (and appear) humble because voters will punish misbehaving politicians at elections,” he added.
On another issue, Anifah said that to combat the lack of doctors and nurses faced by the Ministry of Health, the government should use its diplomacy to seek help from other countries, for example China.
“China for example has experience in tackling the pandemic. The Ministry of Foreign Af-fairs should use diplomacy to request for 2000 doctors, nurses, and health related work-ers to assist our own front liners in combating the pandemic. Deploy a special envoy to get the job done”, Anifah continued.
“We should also get their expertise on how to build 5000-bed hospitals for KL and Selan-gor and 3000 for Sabah and Sarawak for all states in Malaysia so that our public health system would not be overwhelmed by the increasing number of cases. China has experi-ence in building hospitals not only effectively but quickly,” he added. It is imperative that the Government change tactics and provide a better solution. Do not let pride get in the way of better administration especially now when the people are really suffering mentally, economically, and physically. There is no shame in asking for help for the benefit of the people.
Datuk Seri Anifah Aman is President of Parti Cinta Sabah and a former Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of INS.