SOP: New Penalties Spark Calls for Clarity

KUALA LUMPUR: The sharp rise in the maximum penalties for businesses and individuals flouting the Movement Control Order’s (MCO) standard operating procedures (SOP) has raised eyebrows over the eye-watering fines involved.

Most businesses agreed that the new RM50,000 maximum penalty, up from a maximum of RM10,000 previously, for companies that breached the SOP was warranted to ensure that everyone toed the line in the ongoing fight against Covid-19.

They, however, called for greater clarity on the SOP dos and don’ts ahead of March 11, when the new compounds come into force to avoid any confusion.

Sunway Malls and Theme Parks chief executive officer H.C. Chan said the increase reflected the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic as the authorities continued to deal with daily breaches of the SOP.

He, however, noted that to ensure clarity among the public on the SOP, the scope and alignment of enforcement standards must be precise and consistent.

“The higher fines are intended to act as a deterrent, but it has to be cautioned that it doesn’t necessarily become an additional burden of cost to businesses that are already severely impacted by the pandemic.

“For Sunway Malls, safety is paramount and principal. Ever since the first MCO, we had already implemented 82 strict safety and health protocols across our malls.

“A total of 12,000 staff have already been acclimatised to this stringent environment and procedures.

“Hence, we don’t foresee any hindrance operationally arising from this new measure as the system is already in place,” he said.

Chan added that it was the operators’ responsibility to ensure SOP compliance by carrying out audits and checks on the premises’ safety protocols at all times.

He nonetheless expressed concern over the tenfold compound increase for the general public.

“The increase in fines is very punitive and punishing to many, especially for those from the B40 group.

“This high cost of deterrence can have serious economic and social ramifications. It would be better to exercise this judiciously.”

On Thursday, an update of the Emergency (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021, via a federal gazette, stated that from March 11, companies or corporations that violated the SOP can be fined up to RM50,000.

Individuals who violate the SOP, meanwhile, could be fined up to RM10,000.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association, which has more than 3,500 restaurants under its banner, conceded that the continuous breaches of SOP had prompted the government to adopt the new measures.

Its president, Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan, said they understood the need to raise the compound to ensure strict compliance from the public as the country battled the pandemic.

“However, there’s also a real concern that the compound may burden businesses which are already severely financially affected. Some operators are surviving month to month,” he said.

“We hope there is greater check and balance by enforcement officers when inspecting business outlets.

“Operators are embracing the ‘new normal’ by adhering to the SOP but it’s hard to keep up when there are sudden changes.”

Jawahar also cautioned that patrons could be heavily fined for the slightest error.

“I was told that there was an incident where an elderly patron mistakenly wrote his phone number wrongly in the registration book. Police then issued him a RM1,000 compound.”

Not all businesses, however, believed that heavier penalties was the way to go.

Datuk Sivakumaran Nair, the protem chairman of Persatuan Pengusaha Restoran, Bar dan Hiburan, said more engagements with stakeholders might elicit better compliance from industry players.

“Each industry has a unique way of operating. The government should discuss with them before formulating the SOP and then act as per the industry’s requirements,” he said.

“We cannot assume all businesses operate the same way as restaurants and eateries do. Many restaurant bars are already struggling to make ends meet and heavier penalties will only add to their burden.

“The authorities must first issue warnings to particular premises. Penalties should only be imposed for repeat offenders.”

Association of Restaurant and Bistro Owners adviser Jeremy Lim urged the government to clarify what constituted SOP violations ahead of the March 11 deadline, when the new maximum compounds kick in.

This, he said, was crucial to avoid confusion among patrons and business owners.

“We welcome the stringent compounds by the government to ensure better compliance from the public.

However, we hope the authorities will come up with clear guidelines before March 11,” he said.

“Any compound will pose a risk to businesses. Most of us are already struggling.”

Karaoke centre operators, however, believed that the new fines were unnecessary.

Karaoke Manekineko Malaysia food and beverage and marketing manager Mohd Saifullah Rusli said it would only burden entertainment industry players who were already struggling.

“Our sector has already been in a rigidly-regulated environment and the SOP for the industry is stricter than most,” he said.

“Since the pandemic began, karaoke centres operated only between July and October last year and then for a few weeks in December before MCO 2.0 was implemented.

“Within this short period, we adhered to all the SOP and also limited our capacity to 50 per cent. We have yet to see any ‘karaoke clusters’ or ‘cinema clusters’ because of our strict compliance. And yet, it is very unfortunate that we are not allowed to operate yet.”

Saifullah said they had started an online petition to push for karaoke centres to be reopened soon. The petition had garnered almost 2,000 signatures up to yesterday.


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