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Proposed amendments to Act 342: More harm than good?

Proposed amendments may create deep-seated resentment, in light of perceived double standards

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by TMR FILE

THE proposed amendments to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) may cause more harm than good towards business and individuals that are still reeling from the economic and health issues brought about by Covid.

Industry players and a health expert said the fine towards individuals and business owners will further sow distrust among the people, in light of several punishments alleged to be implemented in a double standard manner.

Osel Group chief clinical and innovative scientist Dr Kris See said the proposed amendments may create a deep-seated resentment that could jeopardise the government’s previous efforts in battling the virus.

“The policymakers tend to look at this with a narrow vision that heightened fear is effective, however, with the persistent double standards of rules, it might just backfire.

“All around the communities, one does not need to look far to see the stress and struggling of the common folks every day. Instead of this, I have always advocated a public-private-people partnership, where constant engagement from the policymakers with the society is key,” See told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

He said policies must be enforced whether it is for the lawmakers or common folks, it must be done without fear or favour.

The bill, tabled for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday, proposes a maximum RM1 million fine on companies and organisations, and up to RM10,000 on individuals who flout the standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Health DG Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said these amendments are needed now in order to prepare for the next possible Covid wave.

“We will be hampered if there is a spread of new variants like Omicron,” Dr Noor Hisham said in a press conference on Tuesday.

The government is expected to table these amendments today as the next parliamentary sitting will commence in March.

Bernama reported Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar as saying that the guidelines would protect the people from being slapped with unjust compounds for violating the SOPs.

“Surely we are not going to issue a RM10,000 compound against someone for not wearing a face mask,” he was quoted in the report.

Khairy said the existing law is not effective in curbing the spread of Covid-19 because even factories which contributed to clusters could only be fined a maximum of RM1,00, although their revenue might run into billions.

“So, I would say MPs should not block the amendments as this will cripple the Health Ministry (MoH). We are fine-tuning the guidelines and I have told all MPs including from the Opposition that I will bring the guidelines to the Select Committee,” he said.

“Being punitive is the last resort, but we need to have weapons to face this pandemic. We have done our bit with vaccination, early measures, SOPs and control, but what about the question of fine?” he added.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai said these amendments will put the manufacturers at risk of a possible bias among enforcers.

“FMM wishes to remind the government that it must be recognised that the manufacturing sector is one of the main sectors allowed to operate throughout all the phases of the NRP (National Recovery Plan), given its significance to the economy and global supply chains.

Therefore, the manufacturing sector would also be one of the main sectors in terms of infection detected in workplaces, but actually originating from the prevalent asymptomatic sporadic cases in the community,” Soh said.

The government, he said, should come out with a different and targeted approach if its objective is to punish errant companies that “rake in millions in profit”.

“The business fraternity is still reeling from the impact of the various lockdowns and most companies have yet to bring their businesses back to sustainable levels. With a maximum fine of RM1 million for compoundable offences or up to RM2 million for offences to be prosecuted in courts, companies especially MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) may be forced to close down as they cannot afford to pay such hefty fines,” Soh added.

SME Association of Malaysia national secretary general Chin Chee Seong said now is not the right time because many businesses are just about to pick up.

“We hope the government and the MoH will seriously consider implementing these, and to have meetings with stakeholders and associations to find better solutions,” he told TMR.

National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (NCCIM) president Datuk Low Kian Chuan said the proposed increase in fines is too hefty and disproportionate, especially for the low- and middle-income households/individuals and SMEs.

“There are concerns that the heavy spot fines could open to abuse, bribery and double standards. In particular, the inconsistency of SOPs’ interpretation and enforcement has instilled fear and anxiety among the general public and businesses,” Low said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Universiti Putra Malaysia epidemiologist and biostatistician Associate Professor Dr Malina Osman opined that the comparison was done in unusual discussion from legal perspectives.

“I believed the decision by the government had taken all perspectives, particularly on the impact on the economy, social, health and wellbeing if the outbreak continues to happen due to SOP violations,” she told TMR.

Zukri

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