Do Not Raise SOP Fines Without Parliament Approval

The government may have the best intentions to increase the RM1,000 compound for breaching lockdown rules, but none of their reasons matter if the people, represented by Members of Parliament, do not agree with it.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers is reportedly drafting a proposal (or legislation?) to increase the maximum RM1,000 compound for breaching standard operating procedures (SOPs) of the Movement Control Order (MCO) under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342).

Senior Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob was quoted saying that after approval, the matter would be announced by the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department because it involves the Emergency Ordinance.

The government does not have the right to unilaterally pass legislation under Emergency rule – without Parliamentary approval – to increase the fine for breaching movement restrictions. This is akin to an authoritarian regime.

All laws in the country must be approved by the majority of the Members of Parliament, who represent the people of this country. Legislation cannot be arbitrarily enacted, passed, and imposed by a few men in Putrajaya on 32 million citizens.

Previously, Ismail Sabri said last August that Parliament would have to approve amendments to Act 342 and the Interpretation Act to increase the maximum RM1,000 compound rate for breaching regulations under Act 342.

So, if the government wants to raise the fine for violating lockdown orders, then lift the Emergency and resume Parliament sittings. The government can then table amendments to the necessary legislation and convince MPs across the aisle to pass the Bills.

If the government fails to get enough support in the House, then the Bill fails. It’s as simple as that – because Malaysia is a democracy with a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Sidestepping Parliament is equivalent to ignoring the rakyat. The government may have the best intentions to raise the RM1,000 fine, but none of their reasons matter if the people, represented by Members of Parliament, do not agree with it.

In a democracy, the will of the people prevails.

In any case, raising the RM1,000 fine to, say, RM10,000 will not improve public compliance with movement restrictions. Malaysia’s public compliance is already very high when compared to other countries, particularly Western nations. Only a few hundred people are issued summonses daily in Malaysia for flouting SOPs, less than 0.003 per cent of the 32-million population.

There is no such things as 100 per cent compliance with any law, anywhere in the world. Drug offences, for example, are still committed in Malaysia despite a mandatory death penalty.

Raising the fine for breaching SOPs will only burden the people, particularly the B40 and the middle class, more of whom will fall into poverty with a two-week extension of the Movement Control Order (MCO), as they have yet to regain their livelihoods after the March 2020 lockdown.

Based on the police’s past behaviour – who do not show discretion by fining even impoverished Sabahans living in the interiors of Tenom RM1,000 just for going out to get medicine, or milk for infants – an increased compound rate will only lead to the authorities imposing the maximum fine. If it’s RM10,000, they’ll slap RM10,000 fines on people on the street.

What happens if people can’t pay the fine? Will they be sent to prison, despite the numerous Covid-19 clusters breaking out in overcrowded jails and detention centres regularly?

After more than a year into the pandemic, the government still has not realised that people cannot be beaten into compliance when it comes to personal health. Instead of investing resources into health education throughout the past year, the government relied on the stick, which means that people only obey the law when they see the presence of police officers.

At home and in the office, including government workplaces, when the police are not around, people tend to be lax. Top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci has said that it is indoor settings that people need to be particularly cautious when they’re in groups and to wear face masks.

The surge of Covid-19 cases cannot be solely attributed to perceived poor public compliance with physical distancing, wearing face masks, or not washing hands frequently. On January 29, the five-day moving average of daily Covid-19 infections was a whopping 4,904 cases, despite a three-week lockdown.

Not only did the government fail to achieve even a 10 per cent drop of daily Covid-19 cases from 2,985 confirmed infections on January 13 with a three-week lockdown, cases rose to historic highs exceeding 5,000 a day.

It is the failure of Malaysia’s public health strategy that led to the dramatic rise of coronavirus infections, starting with poor testing rates. If infected people are not tested and isolated quickly (including from members of their household), they unwittingly spread the infection to others, who then unknowingly transmit the virus to the second generation of contacts, and so on. Public health officials are left playing catch-up with a dangerous pathogen.

Malaysia reportedly only tested a paltry 15.1 per cent of the population as of January 31, including multiple tests for the same person, such as MPs during Parliament sittings, compared to Singapore’s 108.1 per cent. As of January 31, Malaysia only ran about 15,000 tests per 100,000 population, compared to Singapore’s some 108,000 tests per 100,000 people.

I want to ask the Malaysian government – what does success look like? What exactly do they hope to achieve on February 18 at the end of the MCO extension? Don’t say vague things like “breaking the chain of transmission”. If the government means achieving below 100 daily cases, or even zero, like what happened after the first MCO, they’re deluding themselves. A lockdown is not a magic wand.

It is time for new leadership to manage Malaysia’s public health crisis. That starts with lifting the Emergency and resuming Parliament sittings so that the rakyat have a greater voice in determining their lives, instead of being helplessly subject to the capricious whims of people in power.

Boo Su-Lyn is CodeBlue editor-in-chief. She is a libertarian, or classical liberal, who believes in minimal state intervention in the economy and socio-political issues.

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