KUALA LUMPUR, March 17 – The Ministry of Health (MOH) may review the Act 342 amendment Bill and defer the contentious legislation amid widespread pushback from lawmakers and the public, Deputy Health Minister II Aaron Ago Dagang said today.
Medical groups and, recently, groups cutting across ethnic and religious lines like the Malaysia Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM) and the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Huazong), have protested against the harsh penalties imposed in the proposed amendments to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) for Covid-19 offences, like not wearing face masks in public or attending crowded events.
“We’ve held a meeting in this regard and we do understand that many associations and the public have expressed their desire not to support the amendments we have made.
“We, at the MOH, have already agreed to review on whether it should be continued or if we should wait and bring it to the next (Dewan Rakyat) session,” Aaron told Simpang Renggam MP Maszlee Malik during Question Time in Parliament. The current Dewan Rakyat meeting ends next Thursday.
Maszlee had asked if the MOH had consulted consumer groups prior to the tabling of the Bill, given their strong objections to the proposed amendments. Maszlee, a PKR MP, said he personally rejected the controversial law.
The former education minister joins other MPs, including DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, Lanang MP Alice Lau, and Pasir Mas MP Ahmad Fadhli Shaari, who disapprove of the Act 342 amendment Bill.
PAS lawmaker Ahmad Fadhli rejected a provision in the Act 342 amendment Bill that criminalises non-compliance with the Health director-general’s instructions for infection control, saying it could lead to “abuse of power”.
Lau said she will vote against the Act 342 Amendment Bill as there is “no scientific basis” to support harsh penalties to control any infectious disease.
Lim said DAP and Pakatan Harapan (PH) would vote against proposed amendments to Act 342 due to the proposed excessive compounds as well as “unfettered and unlimited powers” granted to the Health DG.
Deputy Health Minister I Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali yesterday said the MOH will soon hold another meeting with the parliamentary special select committee on health, science and innovation, chaired by Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, to finalise the Bill.
The government withdrew the Bill from debate during the last Dewan Rakyat meeting in December last year to enable more comprehensive consultations with all stakeholders and to make the necessary changes to improve the proposed law.
The Act 342 amendment Bill raises compounds for offences from RM1,000 to RM10,000 for individuals, besides setting maximum compounds of RM1 million for businesses.
Under general penalties for offences under Act 342, the Bill proposes a jail term not exceeding seven years, a maximum RM100,000 fine, or both upon conviction, while businesses are subject to a maximum RM2 million fine.
The proposed seven-year imprisonment for breaching Covid rules is more severe or equivalent to the punishment for violent crimes like causing death by negligence, attempted homicide, or marital rape.