The MySejahtera Fiasco: The Way Forward — Dr Musa Mohd Nordin & Dr Mohammad Farhan Rusli

It should be a relatively easy task to migrate this “government-owned data” to a local app that has no ties to any foreign entities.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman has concluded that the government was “confused” about the appointment of the developer of the MySejahtera app that was launched two years ago in April 2020.

During the pandemic, no other formal contract was inked between the government and the developer, apart from the non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

The “confused” ministers and bureaucrats who were handling the national Covid-19 app is, in our opinion, an understatement. Their actions exposes a gross dereliction of fiduciary duties of both political and civil governance of the personal health and personal data of 47 million registered users.

The frantic reassurances of the health minister that the MySejahtera application was still owned by the government and that the data and information was in safe hands was met with derision and contemptuous mockery by netizens on social media.

Whilst the government of our southern neighbours announced that as of April 26, 2022, check-ins are no longer required at most venues, except during large events with over 500 people or certain nightlife establishments, our citizens have unilaterally refused to utilise their MySejahtera applications. [3]

Two days following the expose of the MySejahtera ownership fiasco, the app’s usage plummeted by a phenomenal 6.3 million check-ins, a 26 per cent decline on March 28, 2022, the lowest for the year.

This is a reflection of the trust deficit in the National Security Council, the health minister and his team of advisors, the health director-general, the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre, and other related government agencies.

As the Malay proverb goes, “Nasi telah menjadi bubur”, describing a pathetic outcome whereby it may be too late to do anything.

Is it really too late, or can the situation be salvaged for the security, safety, and kesejahteraan (wellbeing) of the nation? Rather than dwell on the specifics of the “confused” bunch of ministers and top civil servants, we would rather be proactive and suggest the following options to be considered seriously in our joint attempt to transition to endemicity.

Virtually all our national Covid-19 statistics are presently showing a downward trend. It is now probably the right time to cease the MySejahtera check-ins, except for a few select high-risk groups. It would be a safe cooling-off period while we quickly consider our other options.

As part of the nation’s pandemic preparedness plans, everyone would agree that there is a critical need for an app to alert the authorities and citizens of the potential of an outbreak or a surge in Covid-19 cases.

This can be used to track, trace and notify the whereabouts of an infected person, and to inform users of the specifics of testing, quarantine, isolation and availability of support.

This is, after all, FTTIS (Find-Test-Trace-Isolate-Support), the bedrock of pandemic management and a vital fulfilment of national surveillance and monitoring.

And as an add-on to the app, mandated check-ins, risk statuses, and vaccination certificates can be shown as well, the last being essential with the reopening of national borders, requiring international validation for travel.

MySejahtera has over time built in virtually of all these features. Like Singapore, we can hibernate the MySejahtera app, but not totally reject it, so that there is the option to reactivate it.

However, this option will only be feasible if the trust issue is sorted out immediately and decisively. Considering that the relevant government ministries and related agencies have failed to solve this matter over the past two years, it is only appropriate to hand this over to a task force of experts, headed by non-government experts to solve the stalemate and regain the public’s trust and confidence.

And according to reports, the health minister has refused to drop MySejahtera, which is all the more reason for the government to address this trust deficit issue urgently.

There is definitely a strong call for the government to junk MySejahtera and build a new digital health app. But knowing the bureaucracy involved and the opacity of the tender process, it may take too much time, and we might just end up with a far inferior health information system from a connected crony.

More realistically, if there is already an up and running end-to-end automation option, which can be demonstrated to be a better system and is user-friendly, then the government needs to consider this seriously.

In the battle against the pandemic, national security and safety is of paramount interest and must supersede parochial political interests. The system must have the capacity to be stepped up to serve the national interest within a short space of time.

If the data really belongs to the Malaysian government, as stated repeatedly by the health minister claims, that it should be a relatively easy task to migrate this “government-owned data” to a local app that has no ties to any foreign entities. 

The pandemic cooling-off period, which we are in now, must be fully utilised to strengthen the app so that any issues may be addressed to overcome any eventualities.

The Ministry of Health must immediately expand its e-health division and migrate all data in house — there are actually ready-to-use servers such as the MyHDW (Malaysia Heath Data Warehouse). 

In the midst of the public distrust, infringements of personal rights and encroachments of personal data, this third end-to-end automation option is the best way forward.

The earlier mentioned task force can check out the system to verify and validate its functionality to serve the national cause and protect the security, safety, and kesejahteraan of the nation.

The pandemic response over the past two years have shown that the most integral part has, is, and will always be effective risk communication through trustworthy information and governance.

We must regain and build this trust, hence the need for a clean slate as we move towards a new health information system in the form of electronic medical records (EMR), telemedicine, and all other forms of digitised health care.

This MySejahtera fiasco has not only affected the current pandemic response, but more importantly, unless otherwise carefully addressed, will impact adversely on our future health care transformation plans.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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