Not the way to go

PETALING JAYA: Raising the compound fine for violating Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOP) to RM10,000 is wrong in every way, according to a lawyer and a human rights activist.

They say it is unconstitutional, violates the fundamental principles of law and is open to abuse

Andrew Khoo, a constitutional lawyer who focuses on human rights, told theSun that making the district health officer the final authority to determine the quantum of the fine could lead to abuse of power.

Violation of the SOP is punishable under the Emergency (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 (Act 342).

The fine has been raised from RM1,000 to RM10,000 and the new quantum came into effect last Friday.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador had said that all fines related to SOP breaches will show an amount of RM10,000 on the summons.

However, that is only to specify the maximum fine, and the final quantum will be determined by the district health officer.

Khoo said instead of it being used as an instrument to enforce a reasonable law, the amendment can end up being misused to oppress and bully.

“To assume that people will know how to appeal for a lower sum means that the initial amount is wholly disproportionate, it violates a fundamental principle of law that the punishment must be proportionate to the offence,” he said.

“I would go so far as to say that such compounds could well be unconstitutional. Whoever has authorised this method and the SOP should be challenged in court, and this practice should cease immediately.”

In a recent post, Facebook user Zachary Yeoh said he was caught in a restaurant and issued a RM10,000 compound for violating the SOP although his drink had already been served when he took off his mask.

Yeoh said it was “ridiculous” that the officers did not allow him to clarify and defend himself, but proceeded to issue a summons.

The post has been widely shared on social media.

Rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia told theSun yesterday that imposing a maximum fine of RM10,000 is not the best way to stem SOP violations.

Its executive director, Sevan Doraisamy, said it is not going to help much to deter the violators but instead will increase the misuse of power.

Allowing district health officers to decide on the appeal may lead to more complication, mistrust and favouritism, Sevan said.

Malaysian Bar president A. G. Kalidas said clear guidelines are necessary to determine the severity of the penalty for violating the SOP to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“A RM10,000 compound fine is excessive. It will be a major burden on those who have been caught for violating the SOP out of ignorance,” he said.

Kalidas also pointed out that allowing the health personnel to decide on the quantum of the compound fine may lead to arbitrary discretion.

“It is my view that a high fine does not always work as a deterrent. Increasing the fine at this time may not be the best thing to do.

Instead, continuous education on the need for compliance for the safety of everyone is a better approach. During these trying times, many things are running in people’s mind and they are facing many challenges,” Kalidas said.

“One may accidentally breach the SOP and the high amount for an ordinary man who may have lost his job is excessive. It would be wiser if the government could reverse this decision,” he added.

Selangor Bar chairman Kokila Vaani Vadiveloo said the government could come up with guidelines on the various types of SOP violations and the maximum fine for each type of offence based on the seriousness of the violation.

Meanwhile, Johor police chief Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay (pix) announced yesterday that police issued summonses to 109 individuals, involving a total amount of RM1.13 million in fines on Saturday (March 13) night alone.

The 109 were customers of an entertainment centre in Johor Baru.

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