Datuk Christina Liew (left) having a word with Tanjong Papat Assemblyman Datuk Frankie Poon. (Information Department photo)
KOTA KINABALU: Api Api Assemblywoman Datuk Christina Liew urged the State Government to emulate Johor in giving Opposition legislators the same development allocation as their Government counterparts.
She made the call when debating on the State Budget 2021 at the State Legislative Assembly sitting on Monday.
“Johor has set a good example for Sabah to follow. If Sabah can do likewise, the State Government can affirm that it is an inclusive administration,” she said.
Citing a media report in the Daily Express dated Dec 18, 2020, Liew, who is also Member of Parliament for Tawau, said, last month (November), Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad had announced that all Opposition lawmakers would be given the same allocation as Perikatan Nasional (PN) assemblymen.
Traditionally, Opposition elected representatives get a lower allocation for their respective constituencies compared with their counterparts on the Government bench.
Referring to a similar development, Liew also urged the State Government to take the cue from the Perak State Government in giving equal treatment to elected representatives from both sides of the political divide as far as financial allocations are concerned.
She recalled that earlier this year, the Perak Government had announced an allocation of RM1.18 million to be given to all 59 assemblypersons in the state to help the constituents in their respective areas.
According to the Perak Government, elected representatives, including from the Opposition, would each receive the same amount of fund (that is, RM20,000) to assist constituents who were in dire need during these hard times.
“Let us put our political differences aside towards achieving a common goal of bringing relief to all those who are adversely affected by the extended Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), triggered by the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I call on the Sabah State Government to emulate the approach of the Perak State Government by providing an equal allocation of Covid-19 relief funds to all the 73 assemblymen and women in Sabah. Our concerted effort for the sake of the rakyat will make a great difference in the lives of underprivileged people in our communities,” Liew said.
Covid-19 is not over yet, and it is not going away anytime soon, she added.
Considering that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are enthusiastic about rendering assistance in the form of food packages for needy families, she proposed that they be appointed into the system under the Ministry of Local Government and Housing. This, she said, will facilitate their sincere intention to help community members in need of subsistence. “We must harness the strength and experience of NGOs as they are an asset in times of crisis management in complementing the Government’s efforts.”
In her speech, Liew also expressed grave concern over the Covid-19 pandemic in Sabah. “As we all know, Sabah is definitely the highest in the country in terms of total cumulative cases. Not only that, if we look at the daily scenario, as recent as Dec 18, Sabah was the second highest (260 cases) after Selangor in terms of new Covid-19 cases. However, the figure dropped to 199 cases on Dec 19 and to 196 cases on Dec 20, making Sabah the third highest after Selangor and Kuala Lumpur in terms of new Covid-19 cases,” she pointed out.
Statistics indicate that there is a persistent three-digit increase in cases for the state since the month of September this year. “What is worrying is that Kota Kinabalu, which is the gateway to Sabah, continues to be a red zone area. The numbers of infected people were seen to be soaring, as high as 1,199 cases on November 6 this year.”
In the first and second weeks of this month (December), Liew noted, there were signs of a gradual decline in the Sabah context as the total figure dropped to as low as 203 cases on Dec 9. “However, it shot up to 532 cases on Dec 11. It is easy to point fingers at the prisons or detention centres for the surge in cases when this happens, but is the Government doing enough to stop the spread of Covid-19 among the staff and inmates?” she asked.
Disappointingly, in the second week of this month, she said, the whole town of Donggongon had to be closed for two days for sanitisation by the Health Ministry “just as we were looking forward to an abatement of Covid-19.”
As of December 20th, Sabah recorded a cumulative figure of 34,478 Covid-19 positive cases and a total of 251 deaths for the state.
“Seriously, the Government needs to intensify the preventive measures to bring the situation under control again as had existed before the third wave of the pandemic. The continuing threat warrants a formulation of long-term plans and strategies to curb the further spread of Covid-19 and loss of lives, while awaiting the official clearance by the Government for the use of Covid vaccines by Malaysians. We hope the Federal Government will consign sufficient stocks of the vaccines to Sabah to meet our demand,” Liew said.
And in the interest of public well-being, the Api Api Assemblywoman asked, “How do the health authorities ensure that those who have undergone Covid-19 tests go through self-quarantine, pending release of the results? It is possible that some, who unknowingly test positive, may be roaming the streets freely and thus spreading the virus before they are informed of the results.”
While the Government gears up for revival of the almost paralysed tourism industry, Liew reiterated that we cannot afford to let our guard down.
“Although the Government has lifted the restrictions on inter-state and inter-district travel, and reopened our land and air borders to Negara Brunei Darussalam, we must continue to be vigilant without compromising on safety and public health. Strict precautions must be taken to ensure that this laxity (easing of restrictions) will not aggravate the already challenging situation.
“I take this opportunity to commend the medical and security frontliners for their commitment and dedication in caring for Covid-19 patients and enforcing the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) which has been extended until Dec 31, 2020,” she said.
At the same time, Liew drew the Assembly’s attention to concerns raised by tourism players on easy accessibility of the COVID-19 screening test for departing passengers from Sabah.
“As it is, travellers from Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Labuan entering Sabah are required to undergo the Covid-19 screening test three days prior to arrival or departure to/from Sabah. Both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia require either the polymerase chain reaction test (PCR test) or COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test Kit (RTK -Ag) negative result certificate to be dated not more than three days (72 hours) prior to arrival or departure.
“While the government encourages domestic travel, many travellers from Kuala Lumpur favour short-break travels at the moment. As such, it can be extremely inconvenient for guests travelling within less than three days’ duration to get the swab test done in Tawau or Semporna, for example,” she contended.
To overcome the problem, Liew proposed that a walk-in COVID-19 testing centre be set up at the Tawau Airport for the convenience of departing passengers. “In fact, many countries are now offering COVID-19 testing facilities at their airports because this service allows rapid test results and is also very convenient to travellers,” she said.
Meanwhile, Liew thanked the State Government for its recent allocation of RM2 million to help revive the businesses of 503 tour and travel agencies in Sabah. “I understand that a part of the allocation was from the “Sabah New Deal” package for the tourism sector, that was launched by the previous Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Mohd Shafie Apdal in June this year.
While welcoming the CM’s announcement that the State Government has also provided an allocation of RM43.0 million for the development of religious bodies, non-Islamic private schools and missionary schools, she inquired whether it covered the nine independent Chinese secondary schools in Sabah.
At this point, the Api Api Assemblywoman expressed optimism that the new State Government would recognise the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) qualification. “I am raising this topic in support of the UEC examination offered by Sabah’s nine Independent Chinese Secondary Schools at junior middle and senior middle levels.”
As a reminder, she said, the then Warisan-led State Government had in September last year announced its decision to recognise UEC holders for enrolment into local institutions of higher learning as well as for employment in the State Civil Service. “Then Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Mohd Shafie Apdal had said the State Cabinet had decided that it was in the interest of the state to recognise the UEC. Sabah became the fifth state in the country to accord recognition to the educational qualification, after Sarawak, Selangor, Penang and Melaka.”
According to Liew, the Sabah Education Department supported the decision to recognise the UEC but as a condition to gain entry to institutions of higher learning, candidates must have a credit in Bahasa Melayu and a pass in History at the SPM level as well as a pass in the Malaysia University English Test (MUET).
The UEC is a standardised test organised by the United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (Dong Jiao Zong) based on the curriculum taught in the Independent Chinese Secondary Schools in the country.
UEC is recognised as an entrance qualification in many international tertiary educational institutions in Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, China and some European countries as well as most private colleges in Malaysia.
On the allocation of RM71.03 million to the Department of Veterinary Services (JPV) for its continued focus on the production of ruminant livestock and production of fresh milk, Liew wanted to know if the department would engage local milk producers such as DESA Dairy Farm, Sabah International Dairies (SID) and Evergreen Dairy Farm in JPV’s endeavour.
“As most parents are in favour of ultra-high temperature (UHT) fresh milk, instead of flavoured milk, perhaps the Government can push for the production of UHT fresh milk to meet the nutritional needs of children for their physical and mental development,” she suggested.
Besides that, she also hoped the Ministry of Education would continue with the nationwide free School Breakfast Programme (or Program Sarapan Pagi) which was initiated in January this year by the then Pakatan Harapan (PH) Government to provide nutritious food to children.
“I am made to understand that in Sabah, 13 government primary schools with a total enrolment of 5,670 poor pupils from Year One to Year Six, had participated in the School Breakfast Programme as a pilot programme. I think it should be extended to more schools in the state next year,” Liew said.
In conclusion, she wished all honourable members from the Christian faith “Merry Christmas” and all members “A Happy New Year 2021”.