Covid-19: Exempting minister without reason creates dangerous precedent, says Malaysian Bar

PETALING JAYA: Exempting a minister from Covid-19 preventive measures without justification is arbitrary and creates a dangerous precedent, says Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir.

"If Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali (pic) is, in fact, exempted from a quarantine order, the authorities must be able to demonstrate what this exemption is, the absence of which would create a dangerous precedent that is arbitrary in nature," he said in a statement on Thursday (Oct 22)

Salim said it was crucial that the government provided an explanation as members of the public were required to adhere strictly to standard operating procedures including quarantine orders during the pandemic.

"The public is entitled to know the reasons for his exemption from a quarantine order.

"It is enshrined in Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution that 'all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law'," he added.

Salim was responding to the Attorney General’s Chambers recent decision not to charge Khairuddin due to insufficient evidence.

The reason cited for this was that the minister was not given the mandatory Form 14B requiring an Order for Surveillance and Observation (“quarantine order”) as stipulated under section 15(1) of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342).

Under section 15(1) of Act 342, it is provided that “an authorised officer may order any contact to undergo observation in such place and for such period as he may think fit, or to undergo surveillance until he may be discharged without danger to the public".

Salim said ever since air traffic into Malaysia was permitted again, the government decided that all individuals entering the country from abroad would be subject to a quarantine order.

"In light of the severity of the pandemic both at home and abroad, an individual does not only become a person under surveillance (PUS) upon receiving a copy of Form 14B, but even when someone enters Malaysia from abroad," he said.

He said the Health Ministry must give its reason why Form 14B was not provided to Khairuddin, which allowed him to move about freely in public upon his return from Turkey.

Khairuddin’s violation of the mandatory 14-day quarantine came to light when it was raised in the Dewan Rakyat on Aug 18 by Seputeh MP Teresa Kok.

He had returned from what he described as a “semi-working trip” to that country, which included members of his family, on July 7.

After the issue was brought to light, the Health Ministry said it had slapped Khairuddin with a RM1,000 fine for breaching the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1998 (Act 342) on Aug 7.

Khairuddin said he would forgo his salary from May to August as an act of remorse for violating the 14-day quarantine ruling.

In a statement, where he apologised to all Malaysians, he said he would donate the money to the national Covid-19 fund under the Health Ministry.

Police opened investigations into the case and had recorded statements from 10 people before completing their probe.

However, many Malaysians still insisted he should resign, noting that members of the public found guilty of the same breach were jailed and slapped with heftier fines.

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