KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 – The Health Ministry is proposing to impose imprisonment of up to seven years, a maximum RM2 million fine, or both for the breach of regulations made under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342).
The Act 342 amendment Bill 2021 — which was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday for second reading — involves the addition of a new subsection to Section 31 on the power to make regulations. The new Section 31(3) states that regulations made under the Act “may prescribe any act in contravention of the regulations to be an offence” and may prescribe penalties” of a maximum fine of RM50,000, or imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or both.
However, the Ministry of Health (MOH) explained at a media briefing yesterday that these proposed punishments for breaching Act 342 regulations will be amended at the committee level in the Dewan Rakyat tomorrow to a fine extending up to RM2 million, a jail term of not more than seven years, or both.
Penalties upon conviction specified in any Act 342 regulations — which only need to be gazetted by the health minister without parliamentary approval — are separate from compounds of offences (which are compounds offered to avoid prosecution in court) and general penalties upon conviction for offences under the Act for which no specific penalty is provided.
The amendment Bill raises compounds of offences to a maximum RM10,000 for individuals and RM1 million for corporate bodies.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic since last year, the health minister has gazetted more than 160 sets of regulations related to Movement Control Orders, among other public health measures and movement restrictions, with specific penalties for violations.
For example, the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures within Infected Local Areas) (National Recovery Plan) Regulations 2021 [P.U (A) 293/2021] — which was gazetted by then-Health Minister Dr Adham Baba on July 4 — imposes a maximum RM50,000 fine, imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both upon conviction of an offence that is defined as a contravention of any provision in these regulations.
This particular set of regulations, among others, enforces the wearing of wristbands on international arrivals in Malaysia when they are directed to undergo quarantine.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin gazetted last September 29 the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures Within Infected Local Areas) (National Recovery Plan) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 [P.U (A) 381/2021) that contains amendments to the principal Regulations [P.U (A) 293/2021]. Among the amendments are substituting “wristband” in the principal Regulations with “tracing device” and to treat the act of destroying, damaging, losing, or tampering with a tracing device as an offence.
This particular offence is punishable with a maximum RM50,000 fine, imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both upon conviction, as set out in the principal Regulations [P.U (A) 293/2021].
The numerous Covid-related regulations made under Act 342 are hard to keep track of, as MOH does not make public announcements whenever a regulation is gazetted by the health minister. The regulations can be searched in the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ federal legislation portal.
Section 31 of Act 342 empowers the minister to make regulations covering the entire country or parts of the country, including air, sea, and land borders. Regulations may be made related to movements of people or vehicles; quarantine; disinfection; reporting of infectious diseases; and offences for compounding, among others.
The amendment Bill was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday by Deputy Health Minister Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali for first reading; the government is expected to attempt to pass the law on Thursday.
The amendment Bill also includes changes to Section 25, where compounds can be issued to a person “reasonably suspected of having committed the offence”, which creates immense room for interpretation. The existing legislature does not make mention of “reasonable suspicion” but merely states that authorised officers can issue a compound for any offence under the Act.
An amendment to section 21A also proposes an expansion to the Health director-general’s powers to issue “any directions for any measures” to any person or class of persons to take such measures for the purpose of preventing and controlling any infectious disease.
The existing principal Act — which also regulates other infectious diseases like HIV, dengue, and tuberculosis — does not grant the DG wide powers to contain an infectious disease.