Both sides of the political divide express concerns over the hefty fine. Punishment for MCO violators should be to educate, not to bankrupt them
Several MPs from the government and the opposition have raised their concerns over the government’s decision to increase to RM10,000 the fine imposed on individuals who violate Covid-19 health SOPS.
Former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak is worried that the government’s decision to increase to RM10,000 the fine imposed on individuals who violate Covid-19 health SOPS will anger the people.
He suggested the fine be increased progressively, saying the SOPs introduced by the government were also inconsistent.
Najib said that he actually supported that heavier punishments be imposed on those who violate the SOPs depending on the severity of the movement control order (MCO).
“I support a heavier punishment for those who violate the Covid-19 MCO SOPs but not all SOPs are equally serious and should not be treated the same.
“For less serious offences which involve people who may be committing them due to mistakes, the punishment needs to be for the purpose of educating them and should be raised progressively, not to bankrupt the people.
“This method of progressive punishment is adopted by several other countries and accepted by the people there because no one will sympathise with stubborn offenders who repeatedly violate SOPs,” Najib wrote in a post on Facebook today.
For example, he said, the fine rate can be increased from RM1,000 to RM10,000 in stages.
Selepas dinaikkan ke RM10,000, denda ingkar PKP Malaysia menjadi antara paling tinggi dalam dunia.
Yesterday, it was announced that beginning March 11, people who violate movement control order (MCO) restrictions can expect stiffer penalties under emergency amendments to the legislation meant to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The amendments to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) have been gazetted pursuant to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s emergency powers under Article 150(3) of the Federal Constitution.
Among others, the compound for offences under the act was raised from RM1,000 to RM10,000 for individuals and RM50,000 for companies.
After the amendments, if a case is brought to court, an offender is liable to a fine of up to RM100,000, imprisonment of up to seven years or both, unless a different penalty is specifically prescribed for the said offence.
Under the law that is currently in force, a compound may not exceed RM1,000.
The ordinance also states that companies or corporations that commit offences related to health SOPs can be fined up to RM50,000.
Najib also stressed that the SOPs introduced by the government should be consistent if the penalties to be imposed were heavy.
“SOPs should also be consistent and should not ‘flip-flop’ until enforcement officers and the citizens are dizzy.
“After the fines are raised, the people’s anger will certainly increase if there is another double-standard between the punishment of ordinary people and the politicians,” said Najib.
DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng pointed out that stiffer penalties would not help to lower the number of Covid-19 infections but further burden the ordinary people.
“While ministers can afford the RM10,000 compound fine, the ordinary rakyat cannot afford to pay even the penalty of RM1,000 compound fine, much less RM10,000.
“Have the ordinary rakyat not suffered enough from the economic recession, business closures and job losses and must now pay such stiff compound fines of RM10,000?”
Based on previous SOP flouting allegations and cases against ministers, Lim said it was unlikely that ministers would ever be penalised as severely as the people for violating SOP.
He cited examples of Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali, International Trade and Industry Minister Azmin Ali and Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa who were accused of flouting SOP.
“During the MCO period, Azmin organised a 500-person Chinese New Year event, and Annuar was caught in public for not wearing a mask and eating in close proximity with a large number of people, but no action was taken against them,” he said.
He pointed out that Khairudin was only fined RM1,000 for flouting the mandatory home quarantine, while a 72-year-old Malay woman was charged in court and fined RM8,000 and jailed a day for a similar offence.
Johor Bahru MP Akmal Nasir questioned how far will justice be applied when it comes to enforcement when probing two groups of people, namely ministers and the public.
“The people have repeatedly vented their frustrations openly and told the government to stop using a double-standard approach in SOP before making any amendments.
“The revelations about ministers and PN lawmakers flouting the SOP were not entertained but actions against ordinary people were taken immediately,” he said.
Akmal added that this approach had given the public the perception that there are two different laws – for the ministers and the people.
With such an exorbitant penalty, Bandar Kuching MP Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen said that corrupt enforcement officers might take advantage to squeeze the offenders for kickbacks.
“My worry is that with the higher fines, it may increase the risk of corruption, especially with enforcers demanding kickbacks so that the public may not need to pay the full fine.
“So, at the end of the day, the core issue is enforcement and until we address it including making sure it is done fairly and there are elements of justice to its enforcement, I am concerned it may be open to abuse,” he said in a Facebook posting.