With spike in COVID-19 cases, would rationality prevail?

What is shocking though is the lack of control imposed on returnees following the Sabah state election. More shocking is the irresponsible act of some leaders who chose not to quarantine despite the risk of triggering yet another wave of COVID-19 cases in the country.


Public expectation is that leaders should lead by example, especially so in the case of the deadly coronavirus. Less than two months ago, a federal government minister was heavily criticised for skipping quarantine upon returning from overseas. Rightly so, as ordinary citizen exhibiting similar behaviours were punished more severely.


Studies in psychology and behavioural economics demonstrate that rationality is a scarce trait for most people. Not entirely due to one’s own fault, irrational acts of human originate from our very own thinking process and cognitive limitations. Due to these limitations, most humans are irrational in their decision-making in that decisions made are sub-optimal, not to their own best interest.


For public leaders though, the public would expect that they would act smarter and more rational than average people on the street, what more if they are surrounded by advisors who are paid by taxpayers’ money. Acts of indifference and misbehaving would only invite the wrath of increasingly informed and critical Malaysian public.


In the latest development of COVID-19 in the country, rationality of government leaders would be closely watched and scrutinised. The next few days would probably be most critical. Among others, government leaders are expected to be rational in the following manner:

1. Practice high standard of integrity.

2. Advise from the experts, especially the Health Ministry Director General must be heeded by decision-makers in government.

3. Decisions made by public officials must be fair to all and seen as fair by the public.

4. Cconsistent rules must be applied to everyone regardless of one’s position in society, especially government leaders and politicians. Practice of double standard is unacceptable.

5. Take full accountability on decisions made in matters related to public health.


On the other hand, if rationality is about being selfish to further one’s own interests, a defining character of homo economicus in classical economics, then past behaviours and decisions of our so-called leaders are expected, even if not in the best interest of the public.


We can only hope that future decisions and behaviours would be in the interest of the public and the country. Otherwise, just as expectation that the post pandemic era would be around the corner, the coronavirus era are here to stay longer in the foreseeable future due to human’s own irrationality and misbehaviour.


Mohammad Abdul Hamid, Perunding Polisi Awam

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