KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 20 – Khairy Jamaluddin today deferred debate and voting on controversial proposed Act 342 amendments to the next Parliament meeting in February, amid public outrage over harsher punishments mooted for breaching Covid-19 rules.
The health minister announced his decision after the Dewan Rakyat’s health, science and innovation parliamentary special select committee (PSSC) unanimously recommended postponement of the Bill.
The committee, headed by Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, met at 8am today, two hours before the Dewan Rakyat sitting, to discuss the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) amendment Bill 2021 together with Khairy, Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, officials from the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Attorney-General’s Chambers, as well as external medical professionals, including infectious disease expert Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman.
After the meeting, Dr Yii told the House that the bipartisan committee unanimously recommended that the government postpone the Bill to enable more comprehensive consultations with all stakeholders and to make the necessary changes to improve the proposed law. This is the second time the Bill was postponed after its first delay last Thursday.
“We support the need for legislation to be reviewed, updated, and strengthened, but important laws like these should not be rushed to ensure that all angles are covered, as well as to ensure that the Bill is thought through to increase public trust and confidence towards this Bill to avoid any unintended consequences,” said Dr Yii.
“We believe that the priority in facing the imminent threat of Omicron is the need to strengthen our public health measures and health care capacity. Besides that, the government’s current priorities and resources should be on managing the flood disaster wrecking our country.
“Therefore, we recommend that this Bill be discussed in further detail in the health, science and innovation PSCC and that [Act 342] enforcement guidelines be made public before the Bill is tabled again in the next Parliament meeting, perhaps in the coming February 2022 meeting meeting.”
All of the PSSC members attended today’s meeting, except Dungun MP Wan Hassan Mohd Ramli (PAS) and Kinabatangan MP Bung Moktar Radin (Umno). The health committee’s composition is five government MPs to four Opposition.
CodeBlue understands that all of the external experts who attended today’s parliamentary committee’s meeting – World Health Organization (WHO) science council member Dr Adeeba, former Kuala Lumpur Hospital director Dr Lim Kuan Joo, Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations, Malaysia (FPMPAM) president Dr Steven Chow Kim Weng, Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr Koh Kar Chai, MMA general secretary Dr R. Arasu, and Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy head Azrul Mohd Khalib – urged the government to withdraw the Bill.
Khairy – when he postponed the second and third meeting of the Act 342 amendment Bill – noted that the health committee had asked him to defer the Bill not because it objected to the underlying principles of the legislation, but because certain details needed to be ironed out first.
“I agree with this view because public compliance is very important for Act 342,” the health minister told the House.
“If we vote today and this amendment does not get bipartisan consensus, we will face problems of public compliance because this issue will be perceived as one with differing opinions and without political consensus.
“After discussing with the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, with attention needed on the flood disaster, upon recommendations by the parliamentary special select committee in a bipartisan spirit of the MOU, I move that the second and third reading of the Act 342 amendment Bill be postponed to the next meeting.”
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim welcomed the deferral of the Bill, noting that most MPs were not present in the House due to their flood relief efforts. Parliament’s broadcast of its proceedings showed a largely empty hall with many absent government MPs.
“I think a few substantive issues have been taken into account, such as cancelling the suggestion to increase compounds for individuals from RM1,000 to RM10,000 and to instead maintain it at RM1,000,” Anwar told the Dewan Rakyat.
“We’re awaiting guidelines so that there are no double standards, as there are many incidents of VIPs (pembesar) not getting punished unlike impoverished citizens. Whatever legislation must have clarity; rules and guidelines should help.
“In principle, we agree that there must be rules. But we disagree with burdening the people, more severe penalties, and excessive discretionary powers for enforcement authorities.”
Khairy replied that MOH would publish guidelines on the compound values for various types of Covid offences when the Act 342 amendment Bill is tabled again in the Dewan Rakyat, as he acknowledged the government’s mistake in not previously publishing these guidelines during the Emergency Ordinance that imposed maximum RM10,000 and RM50,000 compounds on individuals and businesses respectively.
“What’s important is compliance; it’s not just punitive action, but public health interventions that are very important.”
The Act 342 amendment Bill, which was first announced by Khairy in a TV interview just a week ago on December 12, roused vociferous protests not just from the general public, but even from Umno MPs like former Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The Bill first tabled in the Dewan Rakyat on December 14 for first reading proposed maximum RM10,000 and RM1 million compounds of offences for individuals and corporate bodies respectively. General penalties for offences upon conviction were increased to a jail term of up to seven years, a maximum RM100,000 fine, or both for individuals; as well as a maximum RM2 million fine for corporate bodies.
The proposed seven-year imprisonment for breaching Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) like not wearing face masks or not physically distancing is more severe or equivalent to the punishment for violent crimes like causing death by negligence, attempted homicide, marital rape, kidnapping, and child abandonment.