DAP Rejects ‘Unfettered’ Health DG Powers, Harsh Penalties In Act 342 Amendment Bill

The Bill criminalises non-compliance with Health DG’s directives that can be issued in “any form”, which means breaching such orders made in a tweet could be a crime.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 7 – DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng reiterated today that his party and Pakatan Harapan (PH) would vote against proposed amendments to Act 342.

He cited proposed excessive compounds of maximum RM10,000 for individuals and RM1 million for companies, as well as “unfettered and unlimited powers” granted to the Health director-general in a new provision in the amendment Bill of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342).

“PH and DAP have adopted a firm position of opposing and voting against such proposed amendments in Parliament due to the draconian powers granted to the enforcement and harsh penalties and compound fines imposed,” Lim said in a statement today.

Pasir Mas MP Ahmad Fadhli Shaari from PAS, which is part of the federal government, similarly said last week that he was opposed to proposed powers for the Health director-general in the Act 342 amendment Bill.

A new Section 21A of the Bill states that the Health director-general can issue any directive in “any form”, whether general or specific, to any person or groups to “take any action” for the purpose of preventing and controlling any infectious disease. 

Failure to abide by the Health director-general’s orders is considered a criminal offence. 

Currently, specific Covid-19 offences are legislated through regulations under Act 342 that must be gazetted by the health minister.

However, the Act 342 amendment Bill’s Section 21A permits the Health director-general to issue orders in “any form”, which means that non-compliance with his or her directives in a tweet, for example, could be a criminal offence that, according to the Bill, would be subject to maximum RM10,000 or RM1 million compounds for individuals and companies respectively.

If convicted in court, offenders face general penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding RM100,000, or both for individuals, as well as a maximum RM2 million fine for companies upon conviction. 

Lim highlighted various breaches of Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) by ministers during the Johor election campaign, such as Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin giving someone a fist bump, as well as Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, incumbent Johor Menteri Besar Hasni Mohammad, and MIC president S. Vigneswaran “caught mingling closely with a crowd of politicians without social distancing”.

He also cited a recent rock music concert linked to the Communications and Multimedia Ministry in Ayer Hitam, Johor, last Friday that saw a crowd of people dancing in close proximity. Police have said they will investigate the event for breach of Covid SOPs.

Lim gave two reasons for MPs to oppose the Act 342 amendment Bill.

“First, this is a dishonest attempt by the government to pin the blame on the rakyat to avoid responsibility for their failure to manage the Covid-19 pandemic that has caused more than 3.6 million infections and nearly 33,300 deaths. 

“Second, the harsh penalties can have a devastating effect on the livelihood of ordinary people and survival of small businesses who are unable to afford such heavy and burdensome penalties and compound fines.”

The Bagan MP also claimed that the government planned to table the Bill for second reading and debate after the March 12 Johor state election.

“Clearly the amendments are intended to be passed after the Johor elections, to avoid the controversy and the adverse electoral impact over the issue.”

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