Home Civil Society Voices Punitive fines still too much for many to bear

Punitive fines still too much for many to bear

The government's resort to hefty penalties reflects its insensitivity to the plight of ordinary people

Poverty is still evident in Sabah and other parts of Malaysia - Photo: srpoverty.org

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When people are struggling to put food on the table, our political leaders have found it fit to penalise them with exorbitant fines for breaches of the Covid-19 standard operating procedures.

Such ludicrous penalties speak volumes of the government’s disconnect with ordinary people’s plight.

Pay cuts, job losses and deprivation of incomes in the informal sector are the reality. So, it defies comprehension to subject economically deprived people to punitive fines of up to RM10,000.

Given that we have so many people trapped at low and middle-income wage levels, the government should have adopted an educational approach instead. The government’s resort to punitive fines reflects its insensitivity to the plight of ordinary people.

We would have justifiably expected the government to deregulate such exorbitant fines. Sadly, that was not the case. The RM10,000 penalty remains – though there would be “discounts” for any violations.  

The jurisdiction to decide on such discounts has been delegated to ‘Napoleans’ in the chain of authority. Without a structured scale of fair penalties, one would be at the mercy of such Napoleans who sit in judgement – which could lead to unwarranted claims of unfairness.

Though the government has announced a scale of fines, the minimum of RM1,500 is still beyond the financial capacity of middle and low-income wage earners – the national minimum wage being RM1,200 per month.

The government should reconsider its decision to impose such inequitable penalties. Consider the economic plight of the vast majority of the people. Remember that the exemplary sacrifices of our frontline workers and the civic adherence to the Covid guidelines have stemmed the spread of pandemic.

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As such, the imposition of unfair, punitive measures should not be a priority.

K Veeriah is a veteran trade unionist based in Bukit Mertajam

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