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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Contentious bills: Religious conversion and Act 355



The Dewan Rakyat is set to reconvene tomorrow and will sit until August 10.
According to the Order Paper, the government is set to table a new bill while five other bills will go for second reading.
This is on top of three government motions and another 26 motions by government backbenchers and the opposition.
Malaysiakini highlights several key bills and motion.
Preventing unilateral child conversion
Amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, that would stop unilateral child conversion, was introduced in Parliament last year.
In the upcoming sitting, the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 is listed as the last item out of five bills ready for second reading.
The passage of the bill has been slow and some lawmakers including Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran, who is a leading lawyer in cases relating to child conversion and custody tussles, had expressed concern that it will never go through.
The bill explicitly states that even if one parent were to convert to Islam, the religion of a minor will remain the same as when the parents were first married. The child can only be converted to Islam if both parents consent to it.
This was to address issues where one parent converts to Islam then obtain custody over a child at the Syariah Courts, leading to a tussle with the non-Muslims spouse and causing a conflict of jurisdictions between the Syariah and civil courts.
Islamist groups have opposed the amendment and are using the amendment as a quid pro quo for the PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang's bill to enhance Syariah punishments.
It remains to be seen if the government will have the political will to push through with the amendment in the current sitting.
Hadi's bill
Hadi's motion to amend the Syariah Court (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, or Act 355, will see the punishment that Syariah Courts can mete out be increased from RM5,000 fine, three years imprisonment and six lashes to RM100,000 fine, 10 years imprisonment and 100 lashes.
The plan was initially for the government to take over the bill but this did not materialise after vehement protest from BN component parties against Umno's plan.
The government has instead allowed the motion to progress very slowly, normally on the last day of the Parliament sitting.
The last Parliament sitting ended with Hadi tabling the motion and delivering a speech, followed by PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan seconding the motion through another lengthy speech.
If the Dewan Rakyat speaker allows the motion to come up again in this session, it will then be up for first reading debate.
However, it may not be in Putrajaya's best interest to have a speedy passage, because if the House agrees to pass the motion, then the ball will be back on the government's court.
Unlike a government bill, a private member's motion does not go to second reading once passed.
Instead, the bill will be submitted to the government, which will then make the necessary changes to the proposed law and send it back to Parliament.
This will potentially again cause conflict between Umno and its BN partners.
Ridesharing reforms
The Land Public Transport (Amendment) Bill 2017 and the Commercial Licensed Vehicle Act the Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board (Amendment) 2017 lists as item number two and three up for second reading.
Together, they comprise Putrajaya's efforts to legalise ride-sharing services such as Grab and Uber as well as to regulate the budding industry.
Despite protest from the taxi industry, the government has demonstrated the political will to push through with this reform with Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak even endorsing such services when he tabled Budget 2017.
The amendments will also accord protection to ridesharing drivers and customers who have faced attacks from taxi drivers.
However, since the proposed legislation was introduced, there have been a number of alleged robbery and rape involving ridesharing drivers and their customers.
This will likely be raised during the debate and MPs are expected to lobby for better protection of ride-sharing customers.
Prevention of Crime Act (Poca)
In the absence of the Internal Security Act and Emergency (Public Order and Crime Prevention) Ordinance which were repealed as part of a human rights reform that eventually faltered, the government turned to the little used Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (Poca).
The government overhauled Poca, including allowing to detain without trial under the law which was passed by Parliament in 2013.
The government now plans to introduce new amendments to this law.
According to the Order Paper, the Prevention of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2017 is the sole bill to be introduced for first reading when Parliament convenes.

However, details on the amendments are only expected to be available tomorrow.
Other bills and motions
The other bills in the queue include the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2017, Private Employment Agencies (Amendment) Bill 2017 and Malaysian Border Security Agency Bill 2017.
Apart from these the Finance Ministry is also expected to table changes to import and excise tax on certain goods as well as updates to the numbering system for items within the Goods and Services Tax list.
These are procedural matters as the taxable items have already been published in the national gazette and for them to continue to remain in force, must be approved by Parliament. - Mkini

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