KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 – The government today postponed the second and third parliamentary reading of the controversial Act 342 amendment Bill 2021 to Monday to make further last-minute changes.
Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun made the decision to extend the parliamentary meeting, which was supposed to end today, after Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob requested the extension for the proposed amendments to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342).
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim noted that there were discussions among Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, party leaders, and the prime minister on the proposed amendments of Act 342.
Anwar said that a briefing on the Act 342 amendment Bill to the health, science and innovation special select committee, which is led by Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, will be conducted on Monday itself at 8am, just two hours before sitting begins at 10am.
“If the amendments are agreed to, we may consider supporting the Bill. But if there are matters that we don’t agree with, we will have time to oppose and reject that motion,” Anwar told the House.
Khairy mentioned in a tweet today that he has discussed with government whips and Opposition MPs regarding the proposed amendments to Act 342.
“Both sides agreed that these amendments are important to give the government means to deal with the pandemic, but feel there should be improvements before the 2nd and 3rd reading.
“There needs to be a balance between public interest (compounds that might be too high) & Gov powers to curtail the spread of Covid-19 or any future pandemic.
“With that, we will relook at the proposed amendments to Act 342 & will table the 2nd & 3rd Reading on Monday, 20 Dec.”
The extension of the current Parliament meeting towards year-end, just to rush through passage of the Act 342 amendment Bill, caused dissatisfaction among a few MPs, who complained that they have already organised their schedule according to the Parliament calendar and that this sudden change will affect their prior scheduled programmes.
Pokok Sena MP Mahfuz Omar, who strongly objected to the postponement, suggested that the Act 342 amendment Bill be tabled in the upcoming Parliament meeting next year.
“We have already arranged our schedule. We want to meet our people as we have missed many programmes during the Parliament meeting,” Mahfuz told Dewan Rakyat today.
“What’s wrong if the bill is brought to the next Parliament meeting? Why are we in such a hurry?”
At the same time, Kalabakan MP Abdul Ghapur Salleh noted that members from East Malaysia have prepared to go back home.
“Sabahans have bought a ticket to go back,” Abdul Ghapur said.
In a joint press conference with DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Amanah president Mohamad Sabu, Anwar said Pakatan Harapan (PH) was most concerned about the increase of compounds for individuals that PH found “very burdensome” and unacceptable. The largest Opposition bloc in Parliament also had concerns with enforcement and the compound rate for businesses.
“If we agree, the government agrees, this can proceed. But if there are fundamental factors that we cannot agree upon, we from Pakatan Harapan will reject this Bill.”
Lim pointed out that efforts to manage the Covid-19 pandemic do not solely rely on criminal punishment.
“Eventually it will burden the people but will not solve the problem. When the Covid pandemic is out of control, it’s not the people’s fault; it’s the government’s fault for a flawed and weak administration.”
Mohamad expressed scepticism about fair enforcement of criminal penalties for breaching Covid-19 rules, pointing out that only an RM1,000 compound was issued to the organiser of the government’s recent Keluarga Malaysia event, but Opposition MPs were previously compounded RM1,000 each for attempting to go to Parliament.
The Act 342 amendment Bill raises compounds of offences to up to RM10,000 for individuals and RM500,000 for businesses over the breach of Covid-19 rules, 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.
Muda, whose president is Muar MP Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, has similarly opposed the Act 342 amendment Bill over proposed harsh penalties for Covid infractions.
“The amendments of Act 342 are unreasonable,” the Muda committee said in a statement today. “It neglects the welfare of the people.”
The political party noted that the amendment Bill was drafted hurriedly and that MPs only started to know details of it from December 13, just a week before the government attempts to pass the Bill next Monday.