KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 – Thousands of people have added their names to an online petition against the Health Ministry’s proposed amendments to Act 342 that seek longer incarceration and excessive fines for breaking Covid-19 rules.
The online petition, started by the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) two days ago, called for the rejection of the 2021 amendment Bill of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342).
The past two pandemic years have seen double standards in the law enforcement of Covid rules and unclear standard operating procedures (SOPs), with common people often unfairly penalised.
Benedict Lopez, one of more than 8,000 signatories of the petition, said the proposed amendment is an “oppressive” legislation.
“Imposing penalties is cruel, especially so when people are already suffering. Gentle persuasion, understanding, seeking cooperation, offering alternatives, and building trust are far more effective. Having compassion is critical just as acting with mercy pays dividends,” he wrote.
The Act 342 amendment Bill raises compounds of offences to up to RM10,000 for individuals and RM500,000 for businesses over Covid-19 infractions, such as not wearing face masks or not practising physical distancing. Compounds of offences under the existing Act 342 are limited to RM1,000 for all offenders.
The Bill also imposes general penalties upon conviction of up to three years’ in prison, a maximum RM50,000 fine, or both for individuals convicted under Act 342, while businesses face a maximum RM2 million fine.
Others who signed the petition described the Bill as “tyrannical”, “unreasonable”, and “inhumane”. Joan Yong said: “Stop oppressing the ordinary rakyat with harsh punishment for SOPs that the government themselves cannot follow.”
Youth groups Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat and Undi18 held a small protest outside Parliament this morning against the proposed Act 342 amendments, where they submitted a memorandum to Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who met them in person.
The Act 342 amendment Bill was supposed to go through Parliament today, the last day of the current Dewan Rakyat meeting, before Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun announced an extension to the meeting by an additional day next week.
This supposedly allows the Bill to go through Parliament’s special select committee (PSC) on health, science and innovation first on Monday at 8am, just two hours before the Bill is debated and voted on in Dewan Rakyat.
The PSC typically invites various stakeholders to its hearings. With the meeting on the Act 342 amendment Bill held on Monday, it could be difficult for the committee to seek views of stakeholders from the medical fraternity or the business community, since visitors to Parliament are required to take a PCR test. PCR tests can take up to three days to produce a result.
The chairman of the PSC on health is Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, who is running in the Sarawak state polls this Saturday.
Earlier today, Khairy announced that Malaysia had detected a second imported Omicron case, while 18 others, unrelated to that case, are suspected to be infected with the Covid-19 variant.
Khairy then said that he “needed the amendment” to face an upcoming “wave” of Covid-19 infections arising from Omicron. “I hope this amendment can be supported,” he said.
The Rembau MP said the amendment Bill is primarily targeted at repeat offenders and specific cases like the Teratai cluster in Selangor linked to rubber glove producer Top Glove Corporation Berhad.
On potential abuse of higher compound rates that have been proposed in the amendment Bill, Khairy assured that people who do not wear face masks should be advised, not fined, under existing enforcement guidelines for Act 342.
Despite Khairy’s assertions, there have been multiple examples where ordinary citizens were given thousands of ringgit in compounds collectively, while ministers got away without being penalised for the same offence.