Is the current law potent enough?


PETALING JAYA: Attention is now on the effectiveness of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act in Malaysia’s fight against the Covid-19 contagion.

Lawmakers and experts have different views on the need to amend the law to give the Health Ministry more bite in enforcing standard operating procedure (SOP) to curb the virus spread.

Beaufort MP Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun said it was vital for the Dewan Rakyat to deliberate on proposed amendments to the Act in view of the number of infections not letting up in the country.

“I’m sure the ministry has studied the matter and engaged with experts in the field. They are making such a proposal for health purposes, so we must look into the matter.

“We parliamentarians will review the information and the brief that were presented to us, and we will consider accordingly,” she said.

On Friday, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah raised the ministry’s concerns about non-compliance with the SOP, especially amid the possibility of elections being held.

Amendments to the Act, also identified as Act 342, have been sent to the Attorney General.

“It is time that we gave Act 342 a relook as it was enacted in 1988. Back then, we did not expect to have a pandemic of this scale,” he said.

Among others, it has been proposed that the fine for compoundable offences under the Act be raised from RM1,000 to RM10,000.

Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Prof Datuk Dr M. Subramaniam agreed that the Act must be examined to manage the pandemic better.

“The Act should be stricter, so that the Covid-19 virus can be controlled,” he said, citing for instance that the fines could be increased.

He said it was fair for the ministry to suggest such changes to the law, especially if there is a growing non-compliance with the SOP.

“If people are not following the SOP, the next course of action would then be to take preventive action,” he said.

However, Perikatan Nasional Backbenchers Club chairman Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said the emphasis should be on tightening enforcement of the Act.

“We need to get more people involved, get volunteers from organisations such as the Malaysian Civil Defence Force. There isn’t a need to increase fines. It is not suitable in the present economic climate,” he said.

He said sterner action should only be taken in places hit hard by the virus as the severity of the contagion was not the same across the country.

“It cannot be that when one state has a severe Covid-19 situation, the rest of the country has to follow stricter rules as well,” he said.

Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah also said the current penalties stipulated in Act 342 were already adequate to prevent people from violating rules.

“The Act allows for the Health Ministry to issue a compound of a maximum RM1,000, which is sufficient. People have lost their jobs. Even if you fine them RM10,000, as suggested, they will not be able to pay. You may end up sending everyone to jail,” he said.

Under the current Sections 24 and 25 of the Act, an offender may be jailed for no more than two years or fined or both.

Upon the second or subsequent offence, the person may face imprisonment of no more than five years or a fine or both.

Dr Raj Kumar said what was currently needed was to engage, educate and enhance enforcement among the public.

“It’s not a time to increase fines and anger the people even more.

“Leaders must show a good example. I would suggest one amendment to the Act – if leaders were to flout the law, they should be paying double or triple the penalty,” he said.

Universiti Malaya professor of epidemiology and public health Prof Dr Sanjay Rampal said a hefty fine would “do more harm than good”.

“The aim of compounds should be to rehabilitate, rather than criminalise non-compliers,” he said.

He said, however, the Act could be clearly defined to list conditions for larger fines, such as repeat offences.

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