BY NELSON W ANGANG
COMMENT: The issue of dine-in in Sabah has continued to cause public confusion and annoyance with the latest release of SOP.
The State Government states in its recent press release that the “STAND of the state government in allowing dine-in in restaurants, eateries and hotels remains”. The choice of the word “STAND”, instead of a more authoritative and legalistic word, by the State Government, is intriguing.
The 9th Schedule of the Federal Constitution states that Public Health and the prevention of diseases falls under the concurrent list, which means either the Federal Government or the State Government has power over. However, Sabah does not have its own jurisdiction or enactment for Public Health.
This creates a confusion to the people. The recent SOP comes from ACT 342, which is the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988, of the Federal Law. This law is the cited authority during this MCO, all states are therefore bound by what is stated in the SOP unless stated otherwise.
(By otherwise, this means that the federal SOP specifically recognises the SOP at state level and this is gazetted.)
The Local Councils in Sabah which have made announcement stating that dine-in is allowed is pursuant to the Chief Minister’s announcement (which is reflected in the previous SOP). On the other hand, this has also led to calls to ignore the existing gazetted SOP.
The public are under the conception that the local councils have made such announcement due to authority bestowed by the Local Government Ordinance. However, there was no mention of such power lying in the Ordinance, or even proper citing of the Ordinance in exercising of such power.
Presuming that the State Government and Local Councils insist on allowing dine-in which is opposed to being stated in the SOP, then is this decision backed up and has the force of law?
It doesn’t seem so.
On the other hand, it seems that the Lawmakers of the State Government and Local Councils are blatantly encouraging the people to ignore the SOP, and therefore knowingly ignoring and breaking the law. Even though the relevant enforcement agency is said to not issue any summons, this assurance does not appease the people due to lack in security and confidence.
The State Government must take into account of the hesitancy and anger of the people, especially small business owners such as restaurants and grocery shops, due to the lack of firm and decisive authority from the State Government.
Don’t get me wrong, we want our state to have autonomy to decide which is the most suitable SOP for us. We want the decentralisation of power for Sabahan governors to decide what is best for Sabah. But, we also demand that this must be done right.
The judicial process that comes with the enactment of State SOP must be adhered to and respected. We must also understand that the absence of proper law and order, chaos will ensue. The danger of such possibility is real, especially individuals who are struggling to find ways to survive under dire economical state.
Sabahans are now exasperated and confused over the inconsistent advice given by the State Government and SOP from the Federal Government.
This confusion has even led to two former Chief Ministers of Sabah, who are currently part of the current State Government, to issue statements supporting the current Chief Minister on this matter. Even with confidence of three “Chief Ministers”, the State Government is still being ignored by their Federal Counterpart to cement the benefits of Sabahans in the times of Covid-19 pandemic.
I would like to also emphasise that the current State Government is aligned to the Federal Government by belonging to the same governing party — the Perikatan Nasional (PN) Federal Government. The Sabah State Government must not play victim to the federal government by being continuously ignored in the welfare of the Sabahans.
The current State Government in seeking the support of the people pushed the rationale and justification of belonging to the same coalition in order to claim Sabah’s rights and to demand Sabahan views to be respected. Despite being part of the PN government, why can’t the State Government get their federal counterpart to treat Sabah as an equal counterpart of Malaysia and adopt the full recommendation of the state?
We don’t want the State Government to make a “STAND”, we want a concrete action for the people of Sabah.
* Nelson W Angang is Secretary General of United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (UPKO)