Rule on wearing masks should be made clear


I REFER to the letter “A rule is a rule, it should apply to all” (The Star, Sept 22; online at https://bit.ly/2Hqs1QL). The writer’s understanding is that wearing a mask means it must cover both the nose and mouth as “That is where breathing takes place.”

The writer is therefore disappointed that on public transport as well as in crowded places, one “will see people leaving their noses uncovered.” Perhaps these people have a different understanding of wearing a mask! And that’s what can happen when the law is not clear.

As explained by former The Star columnist Bhag Singh, the law is only good when it is clear and unambiguous so that it can be properly and correctly implemented, “Good laws must be clear and unambiguous” (The Star, Dec 31,2015; online at https://bit.ly/32TBhoC.)

Lord Bingham, considered the greatest English judge of his era and who wrote the seminal The Rule of Law, postulated eight sub-rules to the rule of law, the first being that law should be accessible, clear and predictable.

Unfortunately, the law on wearing face masks is not clear. It is said that this law is in the standard operating procedure (SOP). But SOPs are written, step-by-step instructions that describe how to perform a routine activity and are therefore not law. It is law only when it is made by Parliament, the body endowed with law-making power by the Federal Constitution, which in turn can delegate the power to the Executive (minister) if an Act of Parliament allows it. The Act is called the principal or primary legislation.

When a minister makes law pursuant to powers delegated to him, it is called delegated or subsidiary legislation, which are either rules, regulations or orders. But they must be published to take effect.

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the primary legislation is the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342). The subsidiary legislation are the regulations made by the Health Minister pursuant to powers delegated to him under the Act.

But neither Act 342 nor the regulation – currently Regulation No. 8 (PU (A) 254) – clearly provides for the wearing of masks. Even if it is argued that the SOPs are subsidiary legislation pursuant to the powers delegated to the director-general of Health under the regulations, it is humbly submitted that the wearing of masks should be clearly defined to mean, for example, any paper, plastic or textile covering solely designed or made to be worn over the nose and mouth to provide the wearer protection against infections or air pollution. Then it will become clear and unambiguous as to what constitutes wearing a mask.

HAFIZ HASSAN

Melaka

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