Are Malaysian celebrities and public figures playing by a different set of Covid-19 rules?
- As the country enters a new lockdown, former minister Syed Saddiq is among many questioning whether there are ‘double standards’ in enforcement of the regulations
- TV host Neelofa, her husband celebrity preacher PU Riz, and the (now ex) chairman of Prasarana Malaysia are among the influential people under fire from the public
The official in question was Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, who was appearing as the chairman of Prasarana Malaysia Berhad, the state-owned rail operator, at a press conference on May 25 to discuss a rail accident that injured 200 people.
Tajuddin was dismissed the day after the press conference. The day after Tajuddin’s dismissal, the police summoned Syed Saddiq.
“The police officers were kind and accommodating during the session. However, it still makes me wonder what was my role actually in helping the investigation as it is clear as the sun that Tajuddin Rahman was not in compliance with the Covid-19 SOP [standard operating procedure],” Syed Saddiq told This Week In Asia.
Syed Saddiq, the former Youth and Sports Minister, is among many Malaysians questioning whether “double standards” are being used in the enforcement of Covid-19 regulations.
Malaysia has seen a surge of Covid-19 cases in recent months and entered a full lockdown on Tuesday for all social and economic sectors from June 1 to June 14 in an effort to flatten the curve.
The country reported 7,105 new cases on Tuesday.
“Politicians and celebrities keep on openly breaking the SOP and yet no action is taken or it takes a long time before the summons is issued,” said Syed Saddiq.
“In the eyes of the public, they see this as an act of delayed justice where the public gets summoned [by police] on the spot while for the politicians and celebrities, [there is] a rigorous process of investigation before [a police summons is approved by] the Attorney General’s Office,” said Syed Saddiq.
Celebrity entrepreneur and television host Neelofa was criticised for flouting Covid-19 protocols when she held a large reception for her wedding on March 27.
Neelofa and her husband Muhammad Haris Mohd Ismail, also known as PU Riz, a celebrity preacher, were further criticised when they were photographed enjoying a cable car ride and jet-skiing after their wedding, during what they described as a work trip but some speculated was their honeymoon, The Star reported.
Meanwhile singer Siti Nurhaliza and her husband Khalid Mohamad Jiwa were fined 10,000 ringgit each for violating Covid-19 regulations during an Islamic ceremony for their second child, while celebrities Norman Hakim and his wife Memey Suhaiza, along with 1990s singer Abby Abadi and her husband Muhammad Faizal Zakari, were fined 2,000 ringgit each for Covid-19 breaches during the recent Eid celebrations.
Lawyer and environmentalist Jehan Bakar felt “angry and frustrated” seeing celebrities flouting the rules, saying their actions were like “slapping the faces of frontliners” who were risking their lives and working “around the clock” to deal with the pandemic.
“Being people with huge followings and of certain social stature, they should be the ones sending out the right message of mask up, stay at home, avoid crowds and do not travel interstate,” said Jehan.
“What is more appalling is that their flouting of Covid SOPs is usually uploaded and shared on their social media platforms, as if they are proud of being able to do what the rest of the rakyat [people] cannot,” said Jehan, adding it was “deeply disturbing” that celebrities were setting such a bad example to the rest of society.
Faizal Hamssin, a mining industry professional working in Kuala Lumpur, felt similarly.
“I feel upset, and frankly quite annoyed when reading about these celebrities flouting the SOPs. The reality is, some people in the country feel they are indispensable and above the law,” said Faizal, adding that some celebrities had “probably got away with many things over the years” so felt this time would be no different.
“For those with money, the fine imposed for breaking the SOPs might be a small sum, so why bother?” said Faizal.
However, he said that while many celebrities seemed indifferent to the plight of ordinary Malaysians, some had used their influence for good by organising fundraising activities.
Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding Neelofa and her husband did not end with their wedding.
On May 2, the couple again allegedly violated Covid-19 regulations when they went carpet shopping.
Both allegedly failed to use the contact tracing app, MySejatera, while visiting a shop, while Muhammad Haris, 26, also allegedly failed to wear a face mask.
Both pleaded not guilty when they were charged in court on May 20 for violating Covid-19 protocols, reported Malaysian official news agency Bernama.
Mohamed Faizal, a visiting fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said celebrities and officials breaking the law was nothing new, but thanks to social media it was more likely to come to the public’s attention.
“Those who violated the SOP did it multiple times and managed to get away with it, or with very minimal [consequences]. This was the norm before Covid-19 and it is a habit for them,” said Mohamed Faizal. “It means the rule of law is very weak and corruption is systemic.”
Professor Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, of Universiti Utara Malaysia, said people wanted elites and celebrities to be treated in the same way as ordinary people.
“As long as the government shows their fairness, it should be okay. This is a hard time for people and they want the government to treat them well,” said Azizuddin.
Syed Saddiq urged public figures to lead by example: “If our top leaders regularly flout the laws and SOPs, why would the rakyat obey?”