LETTER | We refer to the press conference by de facto Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan on March 17, where he attempted to clarify the “confusion” regarding the RM10,000 compound for breaches of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) outlined in the Emergency (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 (Act 342).
We must first point out that it is disingenuous for the minister to impute that the outcry regarding the compound to some sort of “confusion” by the public; the outcry was entirely justified as the ordinance, when it was first gazetted on Feb 25, made no distinction between the type of offences and the appropriate compounds that will be imposed, leaving the matter entirely at the behest of the enforcement authorities.
The guideline introduced by the law minister on March 17, almost three weeks after the ordinance was gazetted and one week after it came in force, is irrefutable evidence that the ordinance was enacted without proper consideration of the ramifications it might have to the public at large. Those who were issued summons and paid the compound in excess of the amount stated in the SOPs would have already suffered unfortunate financial setback without any recourse.
Furthermore, even with the guideline in place, those who were issued summons for misdemeanours such as failure to wear a face mask or not practising physical distancing, are still at the mercy of enforcement authorities and could still face a maximum compound of RM1,500 - an exorbitant amount that is higher than the nation’s current minimum wage.
The supposed appeal process is also of no help as it only creates unnecessary bureaucracy that may pave the way to administrative abuse. This is also made worse by the ill-defined categories of offences listed under the guideline which will lead to confusion and inconsistency in its implementation.
The rule that criminal penalties should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence is integral to any justice system, a principle adumbrated as far as back as the Code of Hammurabi, enshrined in our Federal Constitution by way of Article 8, and now deeply entrenched in our legal system through decided cases by the Federal Court.
It is disheartening that the law minister, despite his own legal background and access to the legal minds within the Attorney-General’s Chambers, chooses to ignore this cardinal rule of proportionality of penal provisions.
We thus urge the government to cease implementing piecemeal and ineffective laws that lack any clear purpose and places excessive burden on the public. While there is a need to ensure compliance of SOPs, the penalties must be commensurate with the gravity of the offence and failure to do so is a direct affront to the Federal Constitution.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.