KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 — After public outrage, the Ministry of Health (MOH) today revised penalties in its proposed amendments of Act 342 ahead of planned passage of the Bill tomorrow.
The revised Act 342 amendment Bill 2021 maintained the maximum RM10,000 compound for individuals over offences under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) or Act 342 regulations, but halved the maximum compound for corporate bodies from the initially proposed RM1 million to RM500,000. The existing Act 342 sets out a maximum RM1,000 compound for all offenders.
General penalties upon conviction of offences committed by individuals under Act 342, for which no specific penalty is provided, were changed from the initially proposed jail term of not more than seven years, a maximum RM100,000 fine, or both to imprisonment not exceeding three years, a maximum RM50,000 fine, or both. The general penalties remained the same for corporate bodies convicted of an offence under Act 342 at a maximum RM2 million.
Under the existing Act 342, general penalties for all offenders are lower at a jail term of up to two years, a fine, or both for a first offence; as well as imprisonment not exceeding five years, a fine, or both for a second or subsequent offence. The amendment Bill does not differentiate between first and subsequent offences for general penalties.
Breaches of Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) — like not wearing face masks or not practicing physical distancing, or visiting a crowded place, pub or nightclub — can be compounded. But if offenders are unable to pay their compounds — which is now set at a maximum RM10,000 for individuals and RM500,000 for corporate bodies in the revised amendment Bill — they will be charged in court, where they are subject to general penalties if convicted.
The third change was a revision of penalties allowed to be imposed for offences upon conviction under Act 342 regulations to imprisonment of up to three years, a maximum RM20,000 fine, or both for individuals; as well as a maximum RM1 million fine for corporate bodies.
The initial amendment Bill tabled in Parliament yesterday mooted a jail term of up to two years, a maximum RM50,000 fine, or both for all offenders convicted of offences under any Act 342 regulation.
But MOH told the press yesterday that these penalties under a new Section 31(3) in the amendment Bill would be changed at the committee stage in Parliament tomorrow to imprisonment not exceeding seven years, a maximum RM2 million fine, or both.
Presumably, today’s changes to the Bill supersede MOH’s remarks yesterday.
Regulations made under Act 342 — which can be gazetted by the health minister without parliamentary approval — list specific Covid offences, such as losing one’s tracking device during quarantine, organising gatherings during lockdowns, or breaching movement restrictions. These sets of regulations, numbering at more than 160, were frequently amended throughout the pandemic.
Revisions of the Act 342 amendment Bill 2021 were distributed to MPs earlier today. MOH did not inform the press about the changes, although Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin is scheduled for an 11am press conference in Parliament tomorrow.
The parliamentary Opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim, together with several Umno leaders, including former prime minister Najib Razak, previously said they would not support the Bill because they considered the penalties for Covid SOP violations to be excessive and disproportionate.