CNY SOPs — Did someone goof?

If a policy is wrongheaded feckless and corrupt, I take it personally and consider it a moral obligation to sound off and not shut up until it’s fixed.  

– David Hackworth, journalist

So, the government has allowed pasar malam (night markets) to open again but barred families from gathering for their customary reunion dinners for the Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations this week.

I just don’t know whether to laugh or cry over the latest policy. In the past, Putrajaya announced several ‘unsound’ policies that infuriated the rakyat only to reverse its decisions following vehement protests.

And now this announcement by Senior Minister for Security and Minister of Defence Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri of the decision to implement strict SOPs for the CNY, but ease up restrictions on certain business sectors such as pasar malam traders, barbers and carwash operators beginning Feb 5 after they appealed to the authorities.

The minister explained that the prohibitions were issued after taking into account the continued high Covid-19 cases. As at the time of writing, the country recorded 3,731 new cases and 15 deaths with the total number of infections at 242,452.

Some people in the government have goofed here over the latest SOPs. And please don’t put the blame solely on Ismail Sabri; he is a minister but he is just a ‘messenger’. Some smart alecks high up in the government obviously came up with these laughable SOPs.

Fortunately, Sarawakians are spared from Putrajaya’s CNY prohibitions. Thank God.

The Sarawak Disaster Management Committee’s (SDMC) reasoning, that not all parts of the state are under the movement control order (MCO) has given room to leniency by allowing 20 people at one time to attend a reunion dinner as is customary for the Chinese.

But it is understandable that Sibu, Song and Kapit have been excluded from the same SOPs as they are currently under MCO. However, no one is complaining. In fact, folk in these towns have accepted the decision. This is Sarawak style — give and take. 

Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah says for the Chinese community the reunion dinner is an important cultural and customary practice which has lasted for generations.

The insensitive CNY SOPs in Malaya must be quickly withdrawn and rectified. Don’t wait for further backlash!

Putrajaya’s SOPs dictate that reunion dinners and religious ceremonies are only allowed among family members living in the same house. And prayers at temples will be barred — except only for a maximum of five members of the temple committee!

Yes, laugh if you want, or cry. Reunion dinners with only those within the same household? What ‘reunion dinner’ are the smart alecks in Putrajaya talking about? What were they thinking of when they came up with these SOPs?

A reunion dinner within the same household is no different from a daily dinner. A typical CNY eve reunion dinner involves family members from outside the household, town, state or country who make it a point to return home for the auspicious occasion.

It is therefore not a surprise for many individuals, netizens and even politicians to have taken jabs at the culturally tone-deaf and unnecessary SOPs.

No wonder there are some who suggested cynically that reunions should be hosted at pasar malam as Putrajaya has given the go-ahead to operate with no limit on numbers.

Activities associated with CNY like lion dances, lantern processions and visits are also barred. But these prohibitions might still be acceptable by the community.

Putrajaya must respect the community’s cultural and religious traditions of having reunion dinners with family members and to conduct certain religious rituals.

The people up there should admit there are shortcomings in the SOPs and take immediate action to rectify them.

Even Deputy National Unity Minister Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker has insisted that the SOPs must be rectified immediately when he said in a Facebook posting: “Someone has screwed up totally here. The SOPs must be quickly withdrawn and rectified! This is not an SOP, but a forbidden city.”

Agreed! Someone screwed up! But who?

The National Unity Ministry said that 21 religious and cultural bodies and other relevant parties had been consulted before the SOPs were drawn up. Among them were Malaysian Buddhist Association, Taoist Association of Malaysia, Christian Federation of Malaysia, Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Huazhong), and Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.

But in an about turn, Huazhong claimed that it was not consulted by the National Unity Ministry.

Its president Tan Sri T. C. Goh insisted that his organisation was not consulted on the SOPs and advised the ministry to clarify the issue quickly to avoid unnecessary confusion.

Who are we to believe? I’ll leave it to readers to decide.

Let’s hope Putrajaya will reconsider the current SOPs and improve them to prevent a backlash from the Chinese community. Malayan leaders could take a cue from Sarawak.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!