KUALA LUMPUR, August 5 — Nathaniel Tan, a 40-year-old strategic communications consultant who lives in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI), Kuala Lumpur, has started a hunger strike, amid rising public anger over the government’s failure to deal with the surging Covid-19 epidemic.
Camped out in a pop-up tent with a backpack, bottles of water, and some foldable chairs along the corridor of a three-storey office shoplot at Jalan Rahim Kajai in TTDI, Tan said he’s had enough and that an abnormal situation requires abnormal solutions.
“It’s insane to act sane in a time of insanity. I think people are not taking this seriously enough, especially our leaders. The truth is not actually being revealed, about how bad the situation is and more importantly, how bad it is going to be if we don’t take action now.
“If our leaders are waking up every morning thinking about how to get the majority in Parliament, it means they’re not thinking about how to solve the Covid-19 problem,” Tan told CodeBlue when contacted today.
Citing consultant paediatrician Dr Amar-Singh HSS’s recent projection of a worsening Covid-19 crisis in most states across Malaysia, Tan said the current health situation cannot be left idle and prolonged until September when a parliamentary vote of confidence against Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is expected to take place.
“I mean, that is a zombie apocalypse, disaster scenario, you know. The way things are going, people are acting like (nothing is happening), but lives are being lost,” he said.
Today, the Ministry of Health (MOH) reported a record-high 20,596 new Covid-19 cases.
Tan listed five demands on his social media account, which included granting decision-making power to a public policy expert, allocating RM500 million in funds to support the country’s public hospitals, and for gag orders on civil servants to be lifted.
Other demands include publicising a full list of workplaces that are allowed to operate during the various lockdown periods and providing free N95 face masks and sanitisers to doctors, nurses, and the police.
Speaking about his demand of granting decision-making power to public policy experts, Tan said the idea is to allow health professionals with a proper understanding of the pandemic to make fast and crucial decisions — and not merely play an advisory role.
Tan suggested names like Dr Amar-Singh, Dr Khor Swee Kheng, Prof Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar, and Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman to be given authority.
“I said decision-making power because it can be anybody. It can be anything. It can mean replacing the PM, it can be the PM appointing someone with real power, not just to sit on advisory councils that nobody listens to. I’m not particular about which posts,” Tan told CodeBlue.
“Some people seem to think replacing the DG (Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah) is a good idea, or the health minister (Dr Adham Baba), or whoever — it can be anyone — or create a new post, as long as they (experts) have decision-making power.
“I think any of the people mentioned in the post would do a much better job and would be focused on dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic,” Tan said.
Tan is also demanding for the government to provide RM500 million for the immediate purchase of medical equipment, which he said can be channelled to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) instead to avoid bureaucratic problems in hospitals.
“This is from my experience and the experiences of my colleagues in the NGO world, where we’ve been getting requests directly from frontline doctors in the wards. Some of these NGOs have raised millions of ringgit and spent it all on equipment, and the requests are still coming in.
“So, what does that tell us? What is the situation here? What is happening to the RM1 billion (that the government has allocated for equipment)? The usual procurement process for the Ministry of Health is very red tape, very slow that they let people die.
“They don’t care which guy gets intubated, which guy gets oxygen — making life and death decisions are totally arbitrary — when you can solve this problem by channelling the money fast and letting the doctors in the wards make the request directly, not through this ridiculous red tape system that is impossibly slow.
“Of course, it’s not just the amount but how you spend it. This is based on our experience that we’ve seen where there is clearly a need (for funds and to accelerate procurement). I’ve consulted experts and they’ve estimated that this would be the amount of money needed, including to build intensive units (ICUs) and things like that,” Tan said.
However, he admitted that channelling funds directly to NGOs such as Tzu Chi Covid Solidarity Fund, the Hospital Emergency Fund by Dr Munirah Ibrahim of Projek #BangsaMalaysia and Tricia Yeoh of IDEAS Community Projects is not the best way to manage public funds.
“This is not the way it should be, it really isn’t. But if you look at the experiences of these NGOs, again the question is, why are the frontline doctors going to NGOs? We are seeing NGOs supplying these kinds of equipment, so, something has gone wrong somewhere,” he said.
Tan is also a coordinator for Projek #BangsaMalaysia, which last month uploaded a 15-minute video of frontline health workers giving anonymous accounts about the Covid-19 crisis in Klang Valley hospitals.
Tan, who began his hunger strike at 5pm yesterday, said he has not set any target at the moment on how long the strike will last, but will go as long as he can.
“Whether the government acts or not is out of my control,” Tan said, when asked if the government takes no heed of his hunger strike. His friends and family have so far been supportive of the move, with Setiawangsa MP Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad paying a visit earlier today.
“But what I’d love to say is for people to start to believe in their own ability to make a change. I think there is a great deal of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair. The government has perpetuated the myth that the rakyat is powerless and they can’t do anything. That is really a dangerous myth,” Tan said.
“The truth is, there is a lot more that we can do to make change.”