What actually happened at the 28th April NSC meeting?

I am trying to reconstruct what transpired at the National Security Council meeting on 28th April, which was chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by all states’ Menteris Besar and Chief Ministers. Were the states consulted? Did they know the federal government was going to announce the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) on 1st May, to be implemented from 4th May?

This focuses primarily on the nature of the discussion related to the reopening of the economy, and what was the nature of the discussion between the federal and various state government representatives. I am pulling together these facts from interviews with different leaders over the last two days.

It should be said that following the very first NSC meeting at which the Pakatan Harapan state Menteris Besar and Chief Ministers were excluded, the consequent meetings did include them. Senior Minister Azmin Ali said that they were constantly engaged at various meetings, including the NSC, Economic Action Council and other meetings.

Coming to the actual meeting on 28th April, based on an interview given by Penang’s Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow at Astro Awani’s Consider This programme on 5th May evening, this is what was discussed. See here and here.

First, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was excited to reopen the economy. He said that every day the economy was shut down, RM2.6bn was lost. It was estimated that if the government waited longer to reopen the economy, by June a few hundred billion ringgit would be lost.

Second, he shared about the Ministry of Health’s “District Risk Reduction Programme”, in which ONLY the green zones would be reopened (see also here). The tagline for this programme was “Attack the red, Protect the green”. This would shift the focus to district level, where the community would work with the government to keep their zones green. They would be responsible to ensure the zones do not become yellow, orange or red.

Green zones are areas with no Covid-19 cases, yellow zones with one to 20 cases, orange zones 21 to 40 cases and red zones 41 or more cases.

Third, the Prime Minister said that the federal government had prepared a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). He waved the SOP document around in his hand, but said that the SOPs were not ready yet. He said that the federal government would complete the SOPs by 30 April. Chow said the federal government would then probably send the SOPs to all state governments for input in order for them to make the necessary preparations.

Fourth, the MBs and CMs of some states asked for one week to have time for them to provide their input and make preparations to comply with the conditional MCO.

Although it is unclear whether the Prime Minister agreed to give one week to the states for preparation or not (as requested), what seems clear, however, is that:

  1. The original MOH “District Risk Reduction Programme” was meant to allow the economy to reopen gradually, starting with only green zones across the country. The programme was not to allow red zones to reopen, at least not immediately.
  2. The federal government agreed that they would complete the SOPs by 30th April, and made it seem like they would send these SOPs back to the states. This never happened.

When the announcement for the CMCO came on 1st May, to reopen all sectors of the economy on 4th May, it came as a surprise to the state governments, because this was apparently not what was agreed upon at the 28th April meeting.

So far, only Penang’s Chief Minister has come out to clarify what happened in the meeting. He also called Senior Minister Azmin Ali lazy for not having consulted all state governments before going ahead to announce the reopening of the economy.

While others like the Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari have said they had the rights not to allow certain industries to reopen, as this falls under state jurisdiction, he as well as all other state chief executive leaders need to clarify to their constituent voters what transpired at the meeting, to confirm that what Penang Chief Minister Chow said is indeed accurate.

Reopening of the economy is certainly necessary, but as said by many, the balance has to be nicely struck between public health and economic concerns. And clear, consistent communication is necessary. This has not been achieved by the federal government. It certainly has not instilled trust in its relationship with all state governments. And this will not ensure a smooth, aligned exit strategic implementation of the CMCO.

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