From Zaid Ibrahim
I have said before that we do not need the proclamation of emergency. But since we have to live with it, it is about time the government makes full use of it to take charge of the fight against Covid-19.
So far, the government has only used the ordinance to facilitate the drawing of government funds, including trust funds, and to suspend Parliament and the state assemblies.
But to me, the most meaningful use of the Emergency Ordinance will be to revoke the current powers and regulations governing the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), which is the biggest obstacle to the speedy approval of available vaccines in the market.
Vaccine minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the other day that those who want to bring in other vaccines like Sputnik, Sinopharm, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson are free to do so.
But, in the same breath, he said they have to submit their applications with information on the ingredients or materials to NPRA so that it can conduct clinical trials before approving the vaccines.
With respect, by the time NPRA approves the vaccines, if at all they do, the people may no longer need the use of the vaccines. They will probably need ventilators by then!
If NPRA had been diligent and prompt in approving the three vaccines we are currently using, we would not be facing so many roadblocks, and we can probably eat at the great Mak Cik Kiah without any worry.
What is required now is for the government to immediately approve all the other vaccines without waiting for any private entities to bring them in. Shouldn’t the government, with a budget of RM5 billion or more, immediately procure all available vaccines?
The government needs to do it. The NPRA must not be given time to go through its normal processes because it will be too late then.
Vaccines approved by the US, European Union, Australia, Russia and China should be safe and effective enough for Malaysians.
It is hard to imagine that our experts in NPRA are far superior and more knowledgeable than their counterparts in other scientifically advanced countries.
Anyway, Malaysians are discerning enough to know which vaccines they can rely on and choose accordingly.
What ails NPRA is not unique; it is the malaise suffered by this country for many decades now. We have too many “approving bodies or agencies”.
We just have too many regulatory authorities which overlap one another. We have to go through many approvals from several ministries to approve any new product, whether drugs, speciality products or processes coming from outside.
This happens when we have too many departments, too many experts and too large a bureaucracy.
Under the science, technology and innovation ministry, we have research agencies such as Sirim and the National Institutes of Biotechnology Malaysia (NIBM), among others. Under the health ministry, we have the Institute of Medical Research and a few others.
The Pesticide Board is under the agriculture ministry and yet the Biosafety Act is under the water and environment ministry. It looks topsy turvy to me.
I remember the days when I was in the government. The then prime minister Pak Lah was passionate about expanding the expertise in agriculture and utilising modern sciences so as to make full use of biodiversity, thereby increasing our food security without affecting the environment.
The government set aside billions of ringgit as grants to encourage new agricultural processes and sciences to develop agriculture. More than RM500 million was spent on NIBM, with a huge building and operational budget to match. Under NIBM, we also have the Genome Institute and the Agri Bio Institute.
Can anyone tell us what is the tangible outcome from all these huge investments?
This Genetically Modified Action Committee had the power to approve any product, process and ingredient before any company could bring in their products.
This committee would take years to approve them by which time the company would have gone kaput or the products would have become redundant.
There is also the possibility that the whole application might be rejected, regardless of the fact that the biodiversity company had spent millions getting approvals from the American Food and Drug Administration or the relevant approving agricultural authority in Europe.
Although the agricultural products or processes were regarded as safe in the US, Europe or Australia, they were not good enough for our “experts”.
The new tighter SOPs we have to live with from now on, will have a marginal effect on the spread of the virus. It will just mean heftier fines, and will make life harder for the poorer segment of society.
Only a 24-hour immunisation programme nationwide will do the trick. Sadly, we do not have enough vaccines because the habits and practices of our departments and agencies belong to a different era.
They are not equipped to deal with Covid-19. Only our enlightened Cabinet can change this. Will they do that?
Zaid Ibrahim is a former minister and an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.