Confusing orders during MCO affirm need for new law

Do you need to wear a mask or not?

Are food operators allowed to operate round the clock?

Can there be more than one person in a vehicle during the Movement Control Order?

These are some of the confusing issues which arose during Phase 1 of the Movement Control Order which came into effect on March 18.

As we enter the second phase on April 1, we can all agree that the piecemeal style of issuing orders has been confusing, causing inconvenience and even distress to the people.

Supermarket runs for heads of family ended being a bitter experience, especially for those who were turned away for not donning a face mask.

Some even thought it was okay for them to go jogging, provided they did this alone only to learn they were not allowed to do so when police started arresting joggers.

Yesterday, the Human Resources Ministry announced it was allowing employees (only two per company) who are attached to the finance or human resources department to travel to their workplace to carry out payroll-related duties.

Such a task can only be carried out on one day (either March 31 or April 1). Yet, this announcement was only made on the second last day of the month.

Being caught off-guard, being forced to go back and forth from one ministry to another, and being told of something at the eleventh hour is adding to the stress of the people who are supposed to be indoors during this period.

There is an urgent need for clarity in the law especially during the second phase of the MCO to prevent piecemeal directives and arbitrary changes of rules during and after the pandemic period.

Speaking to Twentytwo13, Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir said the situation now is “normal rules no longer apply” and there is a need to prepare for how we will be responding to matters once the pandemic ends.

“We are in uncharted waters. The virus is not only wiping out humanity but also shutting down the usual manner and system of how we are doing things now and how it will be in the future,” said Salim.

Drawing reference to UK’s Coronavirus Act 2020, which was introduced recently, Salim said the government must enact a similar time-limited legislation which will allow them to “switch on when needed and crucially switch off” when the law is no longer relevant.

“Every day we hear ministers announcing new directives either allowing or disallowing people to do something… but you need legitimacy to enforce a directive,” said Salim.

“For example, the prime minister announced the government will provide RM600 to employers a month for each employee they retain in their company. But such a directive must be governed by the Employment Act as laws must be legitimate before they can become binding.”

“It may turn out to be something else later if such a ruling is not legitimate,” he added.

Salim said it was necessary for the government to call for a special sitting in Parliament to introduce specific laws that offer comprehensive solutions in addressing issues that may impede implementation.

“Such special legislation must be able to address issues related to social care, employment, local authorities, education policies, judicial system, tax revenues, policing and enforcement.

“The creation of a single law that provides solutions and legitimacy during and after this pandemic will create certainty and fairness in managing expectations,” he added.

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But how would lawmakers do this? How do they attend a Parliament sitting during the MCO?

“They (lawmakers) must think of the best way to do this as no one had envisaged how Covid-19 would affect us,” he said.

The UK, he said, does not have a written constitution, but they were fast in introducing the Coronavirus Act 2020 which consolidates all other laws.

“If the Malaysian government feels it cannot introduce a new law, they should look at individual laws and review them. But this would mean when the situation returns to normal they will have to once again review and amend the law.

“As such, I believe we should have just one new law to look into problems faced by specific sectors. In England, trials by jury have been scrapped in light of the pandemic, but it was also made possible through the Coronavirus Act.”

Salim added it was vital for the government to introduce such a law to give legitimacy to the actions of many, including law enforcers and those coming out of retirement to serve the nation on the frontline.

The UK’s Coronavirus Act, an emergency legislation which became an Act of Parliament on March 26, provides wide-ranging power to the UK government in dealing with the pandemic by way of increasing the health and social care workforce, easing burden on frontline staff, containing and slowing the virus, managing the deceased with respect and dignity and supporting the people.

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