RM10,000 fine for Covid-19 offences disproportional, says analyst

Economic analyst Carmelo Ferlito says the penalty must be proportionate to the offence.

PETALING JAYA: An economic analyst has opposed the proposal to increase the maximum fine for compoundable offences under Act 342 (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988) to RM10,000, saying this would be disproportionate to the offences committed.

Centre for Market Education Malaysia CEO Carmelo Ferlito said the sudden rise would harm vulnerable individuals, particularly the poor, who had already been severely affected by the pandemic.

“I wonder if the reaction is proportionate with the action (the nature of the offence).

“In the realm of justice, we always have to be sure that the penalty is proportionate to the offence,” he told FMT.

The health ministry yesterday proposed that the government increase the maximum fine for compoundable offences under Act 342 from RM1,000 to RM10,000.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the proposal with the revised figure had been submitted to Parliament and would take some time to be passed.

Ferlito said the number of individuals punished for movement control order (MCO) offences since the beginning of the pandemic was 10 to 20 times the number of cumulative Covid-19 cases.

“Are we thus acting out of justice or driven by the lure of punishment, with the instinct of ‘teaching a lesson’? It seems like an excess of zeal is at play here,” he said.

Carmelo Ferlito

He also questioned the government’s stand in curbing the spread of the pandemic at this time, saying the ratio of people warded for the virus was only five out of one million citizens, while the virus had only killed 0.00039% of the population.

“What are we trying to achieve here? Are we sure that teaching a lesson to MCO violators is the top priority in Malaysia?” he asked.

On the ministry’s proposal to tighten border control, Ferlito said closing the borders did not guarantee that the virus would not spread.

He said tightening or even closing Malaysia’s borders would have a devastating impact on the local economy, which would be disproportionately higher than the benefits.

“Closed borders have very much affected the tourism and food and beverage industries, with hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs.

“In Thailand, almost three million people were laid off in the tourism industry alone. We should care about these lives at least as much as we care for Covid-19 patients. These are not inferior lives.”

He added that the situation in Malaysia seemed to be under control, with the number of cases consistently below 100 on a daily basis compared with other countries.

“Even in Europe where the number of cases surged, the number of deaths remains pretty much stable and on the low level, meaning that either the virus is less aggressive or we got a better medical protocol or, as I think, a mix of both.

“Everybody knows that risks cannot be brought down to zero; that’s a utopia. The issue is to take reasonable risks in order to avoid further collapse of economic life, which would harm the nation and the poor in particular,” he said.

He added that a regional strategy was crucial in order to mediate between the different interests at stake, calling for more coordination between Southeast Asian countries.

“Rather than complicated strategies of green corridors, it would be easier to implement and control a simple protocol of testing before reaching Malaysia, testing on arrival and proof of a medical insurance good to cover eventual Covid-19 issues.”