PETALING JAYA: A New Zealand lawmaker has questioned how Deputy Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Dr Edmund Santhara managed to secure a place in the government-run managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system there.
According to an article published in New Zealand news portal Stuff on Thursday (March 4), the authorities there declined to disclose the key details behind Edmund’s entry into the country, or if he was given any form of special treatment.
The portal also said government agencies there would not confirm Edmund's immigration status or reveal how he secured a place in the MIQ system.
It also said there are questions of whether or not Edmund is a New Zealand resident or citizen, and how long he waited for the MIQ spot.
Stuff said the New Zealand Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry, which overseas the MIQ facilities, did not disclose the information for reasons of privacy.
Similarly, Stuff reported New Zealand's immigration authorities as saying that “In the absence of a privacy waiver, Immigration New Zealand cannot provide any information on this person.”
The opposition National Party's Covid-19 Response spokesman Chris Bishop said, however, that privacy was not a good enough excuse and the refusal to confirm the circumstances was inconsistent with the government’s position on previous cases – including on one of its own MPs.
“I understand the privacy argument, but the government has been pretty forthcoming about how one of its own MPs, Ricardo Menendez March, was able to come back into New Zealand.
“Privacy doesn’t seem particularly important in that case, and it shouldn’t be here either, ” Bishop, who is also parliamentary shadow House leader, told Stuff.
He said many New Zealanders have been trying to return to their country, including circumstances where they have been trying to see their dying loved ones.
“The real questions are around how he got into MIQ, there’s a highly limited number of spaces and so people would be pretty concerned if there was special treatment given to him and the government now needs to be up front about that, ” he said.
Stuff also reported that it is unclear if Edmund had travelled on a personal or diplomatic passport.
Diplomats are exempted from paying MIQ fees, it added.
Stuff further said that the New Zealand Prime Minister’s Office and Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins also declined to answer questions.
On Monday (March 1), Edmund said in a statement that his trip to New Zealand was approved by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and that he had complied with the required procedures to apply for permission to leave the country.
Edmund said he had applied for a 55-day leave through the Federal Territories Minister to obtain the Prime Minister’s approval via a letter dated Dec 3,2020.
The application was supported by the FT Minister on Dec 10 and approved by the Prime Minister on Dec 18.
Edmund said he also complied with the Immigration Department's procedure to apply for permission to leave the country by applying for MyTravelPass online, adding that he submitted his application on Oct 30 and received approval on Nov 2.
Edmund said he left Malaysia on Dec 23 after attending a meeting and underwent quarantine in New Zealand from Dec 24,2020 to Jan 9,2021.
Edmund said his purpose for leaving the country was to visit his family in New Zealand, whom he had not seen for almost a year.