By Joachim Ng
The worst fears of numerous online chat groups with Perakian members have come true: limestone-clad serene Ipoh has been ravaged by COVID-19 along with the rest of the country, and all Malaysia is now back under movement control order.
Yet, just several months ago interstate visitors could freely move around and visit tourist spots in Old Town, although they were already then devoid of crowds. One obvious conclusion is that the virus is more successful in its efforts to devour humans than we are in our efforts to exterminate it.
How is it that a microscopically tiny creature with no brain can outmaneuver 7.8 billion intelligent people? It’s a no-brainer. The virus keeps mutating: every time our bodies put up a defence, the virus evolves into a new form to attack us from another angle and bring us down. Don’t think that the vaccine will protect you forever. There is already talk of three jabs and not just two, and as the virus keeps mutating you may need jab 4.
But it is not the fact of viral mutation that is surprising. What is very disturbing is the failure of human societies to mutate, to evolve new forms of social order that can overcome the viral onslaught.
The command centre of human society is its political system. COVID-19’s extraordinary success against humans is the direct result of political system weakness. Look at the Global Top 10 affected nations — US, India, Brazil, France, Turkey, Russia, UK, Italy, Spain, Germany. Which nation has improved its political system? None.
Among the Asean 10, Malaysia holds third position after Indonesia and the Philippines which have far bigger populations. However, by ratio we top them with 1 case out of 73 persons and are closer to India (1 case out of 61) as at May 10. The world supremo is of course the USA where one in ten persons has got Covid.
For humans, it is not genetic mutation that counts because we can never mutate our bodies faster than the virus. What counts is whether there is societal mutation. Our political system, with power centralised at federal and state levels, is no match for Covid. Local authorities at town/city levels have long proven ineffective at resolving your neighbourhood issues.
This is the crux of the problem. The three-tiered government of federal, state, and local authorities—foolishly heralded as the best democratic form ever devised — is a fatally weak structure that will eventually collapse under ceaseless attack by Covid invaders.
This form of democracy, the most popular throughout the world, is built on loose sand. It has no strong foundation. What is missing is the fundamental tier of governance, the foundational level, the bedrock.
Elimination of Covid requires neighbourhood empowerment, as this analysis shows. The virus spreads madly through crowds, and gatherings can form anywhere in a neighbourhood—popular eateries, school classrooms, fresh markets and supermarkets, festive bazaars, kinsfolk celebrations, social and religious meetings, worker dorms, funerals, weddings.
Federal, state, and city enforcement personnel are severely limited in their ability to cover every piece of ground. At times, the authorities are themselves to blame for allowing street bazaars to get crowded without RELA or police action.
Asking for public cooperation to observe SOPs is silly, as we all know that Malaysians are disobedient towards rules. You don’t kill a ruthless invader by hoping that the people will avoid helping the enemy. What you do is put everyone into a uniform.
Back in the golden era of the jungle-living Orang Asli, there was always a tribal council ruling the neighbourhood. Today we still have neighbourhoods, but where is the neighbourhood committee? There may be just a residents’ committee for airing grouses. Strata developments have management committees, but their job is primarily to enforce traditional house rules and maintain good finances.
To eliminate Covid, we require the nation to be reshaped into a gridwork of neighbourhoods each with not more than 2,500 households and a commercial centre. They elect a committee whose members have zero political affiliation so that their loyalty is entirely to the neighbourhood and not to a party.
The committee’s operations are funded by the property assessment taxes, and neighbourhood occupants are rostered for patrol duty in five shifts per day to enforce SOPs on every street. They should be paid RM100 each for a 3-hour shift, in addition to being provided with hospital-standard protective gear and health drinks.
The patrol issues summonses to individuals gathered at meetings or socialising, and to outlets that fail to ensure mask-wearing and physical distancing of at least a metre between any two persons. For large-scale infringements such as crowds at restaurants or food stalls, street bazaars and social parties, an SOS call is made to the police who must arrive speedily to impose fines and order a shutdown.
When off-duty, every patrolman and patrolwoman is also entrusted with the obligation to report anyone living or working on their street who violates an SOP. Getting it right was Perlis police chief Datuk Surina Saad who said on May 10 that citizens must keep watch over their neighbourhoods and alert the police if they see anyone violating SOPs.
Over time, every adult who doesn’t have a criminal record will have done at least one patrol stint and will become the eyes of the nation watching over the streets where citizens live or work to ensure strict compliance.
With the entire scope of duties which this column has elaborated on many times over recent years, your neighbourhood will become Covid-free, crime-free, free of clogged drains, litter-free, dengue-free, and pothole-free. This is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. All the neighbourhood committee members are from the neighbourhood, they serve the neighbourhood, and you take your turn to serve in the committee and the patrols. Together with your neighbours, you build this democracy.
Politicians will argue that our system doesn’t allow for the empowerment of neighbourhood committees or residents. This illustrates the human failure to mutate and why Covid is winning the war. Humans would rather face death than push for rapid mutation of society to create better governance.