In Malaysia, questions over minister’s small fine for coronavirus quarantine breach

  • Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali, who attended Parliament five days after returning from Turkey, was fined just 1,000 ringgit (US$239)
  • He is a member of the Islamist PAS party propping up Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s razor-thin legislative majority

Malaysia’s social media users and opposition on Saturday criticised the Health Ministry’s decision to fine a government minister who failed to self-isolate following an overseas trip just 1,000 ringgit (US$239), far less than the penalties imposed on other citizens who committed similar offences.

The government came under heavy criticism this week over the saga involving Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali, who returned from a trip to Turkey on July 7 and attended Parliament five days later.Under current rules to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, all inbound travellers must isolate themselves at home or in government facilities for 14 days and be subject to at least two tests.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali

Officials this week said Khairuddin’s case was being investigated, raising hackles that the government was dragging its feet on the matter in the hope that his transgressions would soon be overshadowed by other pressing issues.

Opposition figures and prominent political commentators suggested the episode was yet another example of double standards in the way virus control measures were being applied in the country.

Pressed by the media for a response, Khairuddin demurred on whether he had broken the law. Instead, he said he was allowed into the palace of the country’s king Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah last week, which indicated that he had tested negative for Covid-19.

In its statement on Saturday, the Health Ministry said the minister was fined two weeks ago.

“As Khairuddin failed to abide by the rules under Act 342 (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988), the officer-in-charge issued an RM1,000 compound against Khairuddin on Aug 7 and he has settled the compound,” the ministry said in the statement.

Local media quoted a separate statement from the minister apologising for his mistake. He reportedly said he would donate his salary from May to August to the country’s Covid-19 relief fund.

People buy food at a shop in Kuala Lumpur, with the Petronas Twin Towers seen in the night skyline behind. Photo: AFP
People buy food at a shop in Kuala Lumpur, with the Petronas Twin Towers seen in the night skyline behind. Photo: AFP

Online reactions to the ministry’s decision to fine him came thick and fast.

On Twitter and Facebook, users said the Health Ministry had left important questions unanswered, including whether Khairuddin’s family members, who travelled with him to Turkey, were also fined.

Others compared the minister’s fine to the heftier fines meted out to Malaysians recently.

Earlier this month, a senior citizen was fined 8,000 ringgit (US$1,900) and jailed for a day for flouting her quarantine order. In another high-profile case, the owner of a restaurant who breached a quarantine order and tested positive for Covid-19, triggering a fresh cluster in the state of Kedah, was fined 12,000 ringgit (US$2,800) and jailed for five months.

Lawyer Lim Wei Jiet wrote on Twitter that these offences were the same as the one committed by Khairuddin. “As a lawyer, the principle of equality is very close to my heart,” he wrote. “If there is no equality, then there will be two classes in Malaysia. There will be cynicism and disrespect for the law by ordinary people.”

Raising the same point was Saifuddin Nasution, the secretary general of the opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance. “Why is there a difference in standards,” he wrote on Twitter, tagging Health Minister Adham Baba and de facto Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has not commented on the issue. Photo: DPA
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has not commented on the issue. Photo: DPA

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, whose Malay-dominated Perikatan Nasional alliance came to power in March following a party-room coup over the then-ruling Pakatan Harapan bloc, has not commented on the matter.

Khairuddin’s Islamist PAS party is one of the main groups propping up the government, which has a two-seat parliamentary majority.

By : Bhavan Jaipragas – SCMP

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