Sat, 3 Jun 2023



Emergency services must be under State
Published on: Sunday, May 15, 2022
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THE need for emergency service calls to be first routed to Putrajaya call centre has Sabahans up in  arms.

To understand why Sabah emergency services personnel need to be directed and cannot act on their  own, we must first look at the Federal constitution, which outlines the duties of the Federal government and the State government.

In this case, the Ninth Schedule of the Federal constitution under List I - Federal List in item 26 expressly states that the Federal government has responsibility “…Subject to item 9A of the Concurrent List, prevention and extinguishment of fire, including fire services and fire brigades...”(“fire services”). 

This means that all aspects of the prevention and extinguishment of fire including the funding and maintenance of fire services are the responsibility of the Federal government. 

However, item 9A of the Concurrent List states that “…9A. Fire safety measures and fire precautions in the construction and maintenance of building….” (“fire safety”). This means that the Federal and State governments have concurrent responsibility for fire safety. This division of responsibility between fire services in the Federal government and fire safety in the state government is confusing because the two should never be separated.

How did we get into this situation? The establishment of the MERS 999 integrated system combining the emergency services of five agencies – the police, the fire and rescue department, the health ministry, the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency and the civil defence department  –  in  one  ICT  platform  through  one  single  999  number  began  in  2009.  

On 09.04.2009, the Execution Of Agreement On The MERS 999 Project Between The Government Of Malaysia And Telekom Malaysia Berhad was announced.

Further, it was also announced that the MERS 999 Project will be implemented for a period of three (3) years and two (2) months effective from 1 May 2007 until 30 June 2010. TM will develop, supply, deliver, install, test, commission, operate and maintain the MERS 999 System. 

Phase 1 of the MERS 999 Project covered the establishment of a 999 Call Centre in Melaka and the upgrading of 7 existing 999 Call Centres in Alor Star, Kota Bharu, Kuala Terengganu, Kluang, Kota Kinabalu, Seremban and Kuantan. 

Phase 2 will provide the development of the full functionality of MERS 999 System in Central Region whereas Phases 3 and 4 will cover the commissioning of the basic functionality of MERS 999 System for Southern and Eastern Region and for Northern region and East Malaysia respectively.

Why Sarawak implemented the MERS 999 differently from Sabah? The answer to this question is not so simple. The newspaper report dated 16.02.2019 in the Dayak Daily noted that the call centre in Kuching was already operational in 2019. 

However, the advantage in having an operational MERS 999 call centre in Kuching is obvious. Similarly, the loss of lives and property due to the absence of such call centre in Kota Kinabalu is clear.

How do we resolve this anomaly? The provisions in the Federal constitution as to fire services in 1963 has now been expanded to include other emergency services. 

However, there is no corresponding amendment to the Federal constitution to include other emergency services besides fire. The Federal government appears to have different approaches to the emergency services in the two states. 

In the case of Sarawak, the Federal government has read the Federal list as meaning that the Federal government will provide the funding for the emergency services in Sarawak but the actual implementation is by the Sarawakians themselves. This difference in approach appear to be because the Sarawak government has succeeded to impress upon the Federal government to allow more state control over fire services as compared to Sabah even though the same Federal constitution provisions apply. Therefore, the implementation of the Federal constitution may be varied to suit regional circumstances and practical realities.

Is this the best solution? No, because the Federal constitution should be implemented as stated otherwise other provisions such as the Sabah state entitlement to the 40% net revenue may be ignored. 

Therefore, there may be a need to revise the Federal list, Concurrent list and State list of the responsibilities so that the same function is not divided between the Federal and State government. 

In this case, as emergency services have to be attended quickly, it will serve the better interest of all parties to have the state MERS services to be wholly under the state control to ensure timely response.

Roland Cheng


- The views expressed here are the views of the writer Roland Cheng and do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Express.

- If you have something to share, write to us at: [email protected]


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