KUALA LUMPUR – The Malaysian government on Wednesday (March 17) backtracked over penalties for non-compliance of Covid-19 safety protocols following widespread criticism of what were described as excessive and unfair fines.
The fines were hiked from RM1,000 (S$326) to RM10,000 for individuals and RM50,000 for businesses from March 11.
The constant changing of the rules and a lack of clarity over the penalties also led to anger.
Responding to the mounting criticism, the government on Wednesday said that the fines would be tiered according to three categories of offences – severe, moderate and normal.
A normal offence would, for instance, be one of not wearing a face mask and a first-time offender would be fined RM1,500.
Entering a pub or a nightclub, both of which are banned from operating under an ongoing partial lockdown, would result in a RM10,000 fine as this has been categorised as a severe offence.
De facto Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan said the Cabinet decided on Wednesday that a 50 per cent discount would take effect if a fine was paid within seven days.
Earlier in the day, Industries Unite, a trade group representing 3.3 million businesses, had criticised the high fines, saying that they would hit companies already struggling because of the pandemic.
“The fine is excessive and the process is flawed,” Industries Unite co-founder and group legal adviser David Gurupatham told a news conference.
He said the previous penalty of RM1,000 was already too high for many Malaysians who would now be even more circumspect about visiting restaurants and other retailers, which meant another hit for businesses.
“Everybody is clear that everybody is unclear,” he said, citing news reports which stated that even enforcement officers were confused by the rules.
Public outrage on the revised penalties was triggered by reports – since denied by the police – that street beggars were fined RM10,000 for not wearing masks.
People were said to have been fined for not scanning QR codes at premises for contact tracing despite assurances by the authorities previously that the RM10,000 fine would be reserved for repeat or serious offences.
In a separate development, opposition politicians have reacted to reports that Tan Sri Muhyiddin was welcomed by a large group of ministers upon his return from an overseas trip on March 11, questioning why he was not taken straight to quarantine instead.
Controversy also erupted after one minister was seen over the weekend flagging off a bicycle “fun ride”, an activity barred under the ongoing conditional movement control order in Kuala Lumpur.
The organisers responded by saying that the event was not a “fun ride” as it was not open to the public nor was it a competition involving spectators, and involved only employees from the National Landscape Department and solid waste company SWCorp.