Malaysian Bar calls for extended parliamentary sitting on May 18 to enact Covid-19 law

Malaysian Bar calls for extended parliamentary sitting on May 18 to enact Covid-19 law
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KUALA LUMPUR (April 29): The Malaysian Bar today called on the government to extend the one-day parliamentary sitting scheduled for May 18⁠ — for it to come-up with laws in relation to Covid-19.

Its president Salim Bashir said it was deeply concerned that the present government had only scheduled for the one-day sitting of the Dewan Rakyat to hear the speech of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and to table certain legislation for first reading.

Citing countries like Singapore and the UK that had formulated laws in their legislature to deal with Covid-19, the Bar said Malaysia should follow suit.

“According to various news reports, there will be no motion and no debate during the May 18 sitting; all business [is] being deferred to the next sitting, likely to be held sometime in July 2020.

“As we in Malaysia begin to plan for an exit strategy from the movement control order (MCO), urgent legislation is needed to protect individuals, businesses and companies from the consequences of being unable to perform or fulfil their contractual obligations arising from measures taken in relation to Covid-19 prevention,” he said in a statement.

The Malaysian Bar joins the chorus of opposition politicians and political parties seeking to extend the parliamentary seating.

Salim said measures announced by the government so far in relation to commercial activity — apart from ordering businesses and shops to shut or open — lack legitimacy as they are being implemented by way of administrative directives.

He added that these administrative directives tend to apply only to regulated institutions such as financial institutions, government-linked corporations, government departments and government agencies.

“These do not include the vast number and varied nature of private business transactions, for example supply agreements, sale and purchase agreements, the majority of employment contracts, and rental or hire agreements.”

Some contracts, the Malaysian Bar president said, may have provided for exceptional circumstances with the use of a “force majeure” clause, but many would have not.

“Even contracts with force majeure clauses may not be sufficient to avoid termination and penalties for non-performance. Legal protection from unintended non-performance of contracts needs to be provided for specifically, and enacted by way of legislation, so as to provide comprehensive coverage,” he urged.

Citing Singapore, Salim said such legislation was introduced in the second week of April to ensure that booking deposits could not be forfeited for wedding or business functions that had to be postponed, and termination of business premises leases due to non-payment of rent.

“In the United Kingdom, the Coronavirus Act 2020 was introduced in March 2020 to allow for regulations to be made regarding employment contracts — to protect employers and employees,” he said.

“A similar Covid-19 law is desperately needed in Malaysia, and must be in place before we emerge from the MCO. We strongly urge the government to introduce one as soon as possible, and to extend the sitting of the Dewan Rakyat to cater for this. The Dewan Negara also needs to meet, so that parliamentary business can fully take place,” he added.

Salim reminded that urgent needs of the rakyat and vital interests of the nation need to be immediately deliberated, debated and decided on.

“Other legislatures elsewhere in the world have shown that, with a bit of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, parliamentary business can and does proceed with sufficient physical-distancing precautions. We must also do the same,” he said.

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