Asia

Calls for Malaysian deputy minister to resign as he flew to NZ amid pandemic crisis

KUALA LUMPUR – A Malaysian deputy minister is facing calls for his resignation following a revelation that he is on a 55-day leave to be with his family in New Zealand from end-December.

The incident is seen as yet another example of double standards involving politicians from the Perikatan Nasional government.

Deputy Federal Territories (FT) Minister Edmund Santhara Kumar’s absence is being criticised at a time when front-liners are generally banned from taking leave to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

“An MP who abandons his parliamentary constituency when the people are suffering from disasters such as fire, floods and the Covid-19 pandemic should immediately quit his position,” said opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) lawmaker P. Prabakaran.

Mr Prabakaran added that the deputy minister should return his salary and allowances paid to him since leaving the country.

Datuk Seri Kumar was one of 11 lawmakers who ditched PKR to join Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in February 2020, toppling the then ruling Pakatan Harapan government.

The deputy minister has defended himself as a “responsible father”, saying in a statement that Tan Sri Muhyiddin had approved his leave in order for him to be with his wife, who he said has health problems, and to see his children who are studying in New Zealand.

“The reason I left the country is to visit my children in New Zealand, in particular, my child who is pursuing law studies. As a responsible father, I also need to see my nine-year-old child after almost a year of not meeting.

“In addition, I must visit my wife who is suffering from health problems. I was also unable to attend a ceremony for my nine-year-old to receive holy communion because I was always busy with my duties as a deputy minister and an MP,” he said in a statement on his Facebook page on Monday (March 1).

Instead of sympathy, he has been mocked by fellow politicians and netizens on social media, with memes and posts questioning his actions when ordinary Malaysians are not allowed to cross into another state due to an ongoing partial lockdown.

“Are regular folk not allowed to cross district and state borders to visit their families because they are regarded as irresponsible parents? They are not asking to travel overseas,” Umno supreme council member Puad Zarkashi wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

He said he felt sorry for the front-liners who have not had their leave approved during the pandemic.

“Is the deputy FT minister’s post no longer important? The double standards in this country are becoming more apparent.”

Datuk Puad’s post was liked 5,900 times, with many comments saying it was unfair and a case of double standards.

One comment by FB user Sukmawati Suliman said: “Because of the double standards practiced by the PN government, the public can’t cross state borders but ministers can leave the country.”

Mr Kumar did not say when he would return to Malaysia but a document shared on social media purportedly showed that he was approved to go on leave from Dec 28 to March 20.

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The incident followed cases that have incensed the public where light sentences were imposed on PN lawmakers for breaking health protocols, but members of the public were given hefty fines and jail terms for similar offences.

Mr Kumar’s boss, Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa, was on two occasions this year accused of getting away with breaching Covid-19 protocols.

He was photographed having a meal with more than five people at a table last month, when the maximum number allowed at the time was two.

Tan Sri Annuar had also posted a photo of himself brisk walking on a street with two friends in January without masks, when the rules allowed only two people from the same household to go on jogs and walks together.

He said he had quickly walked away from the table after the photo of him eating was snapped after realising he was breaking health rules. He had also claimed that he happened to bump into the two senior government officials while brisk walking alone.

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