Dewan Rakyat swiftly passes Covid-19 relief bills

A bill to amend the Insolvency Act 1967, which will see the minimum debt threshold for bankruptcy raised, was also passed

pic by BERNAMA

THE government used the fast-tracking process once again to pass two crucial bills aimed at tackling the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, making it four bills passed in two days.

Most MPs on both blocs were given just five minutes to debate on the two bills, despite repeated requests made by Opposition parliamentarians for more time to deliberate on the Covid-19 relief bill.

“This is not the bill to be rushed,” Sungai Buloh MP Sivarasa Rasiah told Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun after the latter announced the limited time allotted for debate.

“We have to give due justice to the provisions in the bill. Our intention is not to contest it, but there are loopholes that need to be addressed,” the former deputy minister said.

A total of 27 MPs stood to deliver their speeches before the Temporary Measures for Government Financing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19) Bill 2020 was voted through the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

An amendment to the Insolvency Act 1967, which sought to temporarily change the existing insolvency law by increasing the monetary threshold for bankruptcy to RM100,000 from RM50,000, was also passed.

Under the relief bill, any penalties, legal proceedings or repossession of goods against late payments will be deferred for a period specified under the modified terms. The bill covers contracts for leases of non-residential property, hire-purchase agreements and credit facilities.

However, the bill contains several saving provisions which validate legal actions taken before the law comes into force.

Any form of protection provided by the bill will not apply if actions or claims have commenced before the law is gazetted.

Since the bill requires approval from the Senate, which would sit until Sept 23, before it is given royal assent and is written into law, the earliest it can be gazetted is at the end of next month.

Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming requested for the government to omit the clauses, saying it would make things fairer for all parties that have been affected by efforts to contain the pandemic since March.

In a rare display of unanimity, Arau MP Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said the bill should be slightly amended to make sure all provisions are effective from March.

The bill, however, was passed without any amendment. In his wind-up speech, Minister in Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law) Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan (picture) said the saving clause is included to provide certainty to judicial rulings and provisions meted out before the relief bill takes effect.

He said there are various legal options to deal with different scenarios. For example, if contracts contained force majeure, he said the court will consider the provision in the final judgement.

Additionally, Takiyuddin said the bill is an extension of various other measures that the government has taken.

“In total, we have made changes to 58 regulations and rulings including on exemptions on stamp duty and remittance fees. Of this, 24 are linked to economic activities,” he said.

Ipoh Timur MP Wong Kah Woh, in his interjection, said passing the bill without amending it, would mean that the government “has no heart”.

Separately, a bill to amend the Co-operative Societies Act 1993 was earlier tabled by the government, which seeks to allow a co-operative society with at least 25 persons to be registered.

Currently, a co-operative society is required to consist of at least 50 persons before it can be registered as a primary co-operative society.

However, an additional amendment to subsection 8(1) of Act 502 allows a Commission under the special provision to register a co-operative society with at least five persons.

The commission may revoke the registration if the number of members has been reduced to less than five from 15.