KUALA LUMPUR, August 17 — The maximum RM1,000 fine for not wearing a face covering in public areas is subject to the public prosecutor’s approval, Deputy Health Minister Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali said today.
Dr Noor Azmi was replying to Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii at Parliament’s Special Chamber, who claimed that his petition to introduce a tier system of the fine for non-compliance with the face mask rule — starting with RM250 for first offences — had received support from the majority of the Dewan Rakyat with 114 out of 222 MPs.
“The government has decided that the rate of the compound is RM1,000, but it will be determined after considering the elements of the offences that have been done,” Dr Noor Azmi said during his debate on Dr Yii’s emergency motion for the government to amend the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) for a tier compound system related to wearing face masks in crowded public spaces.
Legislation in Malaysia is usually only made by the Executive, as private member’s Bills are rarely debated in Parliament. Hence, any amendments to legislation require a Bill tabled by the government; the minister in charge of Act 342 is the health minister.
From August 1, when the government made it mandatory for everyone to use a face mask in public places amid the Covid-19 outbreak, police have started issuing immediate RM1,000 compounds to individuals for flouting the rule, or even for wearing the mask incorrectly in public areas.
During the debate, Dr Yii pointed out the case of an elderly woman who was fined RM1,000 while she was on her way back to her car to get her mask that she had forgotten, as well as another case of a teenager who wept openly after being fined RM1,000 for not wearing his face mask properly at a train station.
Dr Noor Azmi responded by saying that in the case someone feels that the compound is not fair, the individual can choose not to pay the fine, then the health director can refer the matter to the federal prosecuting office.
He said that an application for a fine to be dropped can be made in court, as it is at the discretion of the judge.
“If the public prosecutor thinks that there is sufficient evidence to prove the offence, then the case will be taken to court for trial. The judge will decide.”
A bipartisan petition started on August 13 by Dr Yii and his fellow DAP colleague, Kluang MP Wong Shu Qi, urged the government to slash the RM1,000 fine for not wearing a face mask in public areas to RM250 for first time offenders, RM500 for the second offence, and RM1,000 for repeat offenders.
During the debate, Dr Yii highlighted that in Spain, the fine for not wearing face masks in public is €100 (RM496) for the first offence, while repeat offenders will be fined through a tier system, up to €1,000 (RM4,963). In the UK, it is also a tiered system, starting from £100 (RM549), then up to £3,200 (RM17,551).
Dr Yii previously told CodeBlue that besides Pakatan Harapan (PH) lawmakers, former prime minister and Langkawi MP Dr Mahathir Mohamad, three government lawmakers had also signed his petition: Nazri Aziz (Padang Rengas), Bung Moktar Radin (Kinabatangan), and Lukanisman Awang Sauni (Sibuti).
Dr Yii did not respond to CodeBlue at the time of writing when asked for the list of 114 MPs who signed the petition. Perikatan Nasional (PN) commands a slim majority of the Dewan Rakyat with 113 MPs, compared to PH and ally lawmakers with 109 MPs.
Dr Noor Azmi also claimed today that the spread of coronavirus can be reduced by 65 per cent by wearing face masks and practicing physical distancing.
“It is more difficult for frontliners wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), [enduring] risk, not going home to see their family, working day and night, but we as the general public only need to wear a mask.
“Sometimes this is just like when we are sick, when we are sick, we take medicines, the medicine is bitter but it is to make us healthy. So this law is not to torture, but it is a pure and sincere intention to save our country, public, family, and ourselves,” the deputy health minister added.
Dr Yii also highlighted that if the fine is too high, it will open up the risk of corruption among certain enforcers, as the RM1,000 compound accounts for 83 per cent of the RM1,200 monthly minimum wage, unlike in Australia where the compound of A$200 (RM602) for not wearing a face mask in public areas accounts for only about 7 per cent of Australia’s national monthly minimum wage.
“There are a handful who do not care, the ones who violate the law, who resort to bribery , those looking for opportunity, this is everywhere in this world. Indeed, they are the ones that should be caught for spoiling the sincere and pure intention of the government to save the country so that the public can live healthy,” the deputy minister answered Dr Yii.
Dr Noor Azmi said that all the issues raised will be considered and brought up during a meeting among ministers on the Recovery Movement Control Order chaired by Senior Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.