KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry is lowering the proposed hefty fines on companies and individuals who breach Covid-19 standard operating procedure.The decision to lower the fines comes in the wake of the outcry over the initial fines contained in the Bill tabled in Parliament on Tuesday to amend the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342).

Based on a document sighted by The Star, the Bill will be amended to lower the initially proposed maximum RM100,000 fine or seven years’ jail under Section 24(a) to “RM50,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years” in the case of an individual.

Also tweaked is the proposed punishments under Section 25(b), which will be reduced from a fine not exceeding RM1mil for a corporate body to RM500,000.

Also lowered is the compound amount under Section 31(3) not exceeding RM20,000 or an imprisonment term not exceeding three years or both.

Under the present Act 342, the health authorities are only empowered to impose a maximum fine of RM1,000 against companies and individuals who flout Covid-19 SOP.

While stricter enforcement of Covid-19 SOP is a must amid the threat of new variants such as Omicron, some organisations say imposing a maximum compound of RM500,000 is still high and it can derail economic recovery.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai said although the proposed fine had been halved, the figure was still high and the government should revert to the figures stipulated in the Emergency Ordinance, or withdraw the Bill and hold consultations with more stakeholders.“This is not a game of figures. What’s worse is that the government didn’t provide any clear or transparent compound for each offence and it’s very subjective.

“This could lead to misuse of power and corruption,” he said, adding that the government should think of the survival of micro and small medium enterprises (MSMEs) as they were still struggling.

“Why penalise them?” he questioned.

Soh said the business fraternity was still reeling from the impact of the various lockdowns and most companies had yet to recuperate to a sustainable level.

The National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia president Datuk Low Kian Chuan said the lowered compound amount of RM500,000 was still steep for MSMEs and businesses.

Low added that compoundable offences for individuals could also be further lowered from the proposed RM50,000 to ease the burden on low- and middle-income households.

“The wealthy can easily pay the compound, but the low- and middle-income earners cannot afford it and will be put in jail,” he said.

Amendments to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1998 (Act 342), if passed in Parliament this week, will see companies and organisations flouting Covid-19 SOP liable to a maximum fine of RM500,000 for compoundable offences.

However, business groups said this must be reviewed.

Small and Medium Enterprises Association of Malaysia (Samenta) chairman Datuk William Ng said businesses were already struggling and based on their survey in September, SMEs were spending an average of RM90 monthly per employee just on SOP compliance.

“At a time when businesses, especially SMEs, are trying to recover from the prolonged lockdowns, the proposed maximum penalty is still excessive,” said Ng.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said the higher penalty proposed for companies and organisations breaching Covid-19 SOP was justified.

Its president Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman said Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin had previously stated that the proposed maximum compound of RM1mil could be imposed on large companies that were repeat offenders and had triggered new Covid-19 clusters several times.

With the threat of new variants such as Omicron, employers were deeply concerned that it would derail business recovery and cause severe disruptions to the supply chain, he said.

“MEF is of the view that the proposed maximum compound of RM1mil on repeat offenders is justified as some offenders from large companies did not take the earlier penalties imposed on them seriously.

“We believe that all these penalties are being introduced to protect the rakyat and the country.

“We hope this will also apply to repeat offenders in both private and public sectors.

“It is also important that the government issue clear guidelines so that minor offences are not heavily penalised and repeat offenders are imposed higher penalties,” Syed Hussain said in a statement yesterday.

He added that the various past lockdowns had taught Malaysians a lesson on their adverse impact on the economy, triggering unemployment and affecting the mental health of the society.

“It is hoped that with the implementation of the enhanced SOP, booster shots and physical distancing, our economy will remain open and no more lockdowns will be imposed despite the possibility of a fourth wave.

“It is important that all stakeholders comply with the SOP and compliance can be better obtained by revising the penalty under existing legislation,” he said.

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