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Sunday, January 31, 2021

Don't just raise fines, get public involved in enforcement during MCO


Raising fines for those flouting the standard operating procedures (SOP) during the movement control order (MCO) may not be effective as long as goalposts in the way laws are interpreted by stakeholders keep shifting.

Some politicians are not leading by example and not being held accountable for flouting the MCO SOP, and this is fueling anger in society.

The powers of enforcing a law in all aspects lie with the relevant agency. The interpretation in the manner it is carried out is left to the discretion of those who have powers to carry it out.

The executive and the legislative branches of the democratic system and government set the policy but do not interfere with the manner and mode on how enforcement is carried out. Over time, the balance of the way of enforcement, its shortcomings with all the pros and cons will be ventilated guided by persuasive guides on precedents, trite law and natural justice.

We must trust the enforcement system to find its balance on its own evolution. Officers entrusted with these powers exercise it with experience, knowledge of the law and a sense of fair play. The law never intended policymakers from any other branch of the democratic system to be involved, although there is a very thin line of accountability and responsibility between these branches.

The executive and the legislative, which are usually fused, need to constantly exercise this separation of powers to allow independent decisions to be made by the relevant enforcement agency. They only step in when there are serious controversies. The courts will have the final say on any issue if and when it is brought before it.

The police being the most significant enforcement agency during this crisis, almost always is caught between a rock and a hard place whenever it deals with the executive and the political landscape in general. This is because the overall political landscape wields great influence over them.

This is a cold fact and must be addressed through parliament if we are to have a better separation of powers when it comes to enforcement decisions that need to be applied without fear or favour.

The recent inconsistent decisions on religious gatherings, processions, SOPs that are inconsistently applied to different segments of society, etc are part of the ongoing problem.

We need the police to be neutral, fair, patient and firm in enforcing the law. It will win the hearts and minds of the people, and that will be crucial in the days ahead in the war against this unseen enemy.

Religious and cultural events are sensitive issues that can rile up communities when intervening factors prevent them and those concerned from fulfilling their obligations. It is understandably difficult for those who practice their faith dutifully, piously and emotionally. However, neither can it be an excuse nor an exception to the rule.

The rule of law must prevail, especially when the covid cases are presently on the rise and difficult to control. The inconsistency in enforcement can demoralise society, notwithstanding the fact that it fuels others not to comply with the SOP on masks and social distancing.

The problem can be further compounded when the enforcers themselves empathise with these segments of society as they are intertwined within the same community and beliefs. It is understandable but should be weeded out.

Both the executive and the enforcers of the law must understand what needs to be done without fear or favour irrespective of political bases. This requires strong and practical leadership. It must set aside partisan politics for the good of the nation.

It is also clear that the present approach of complete lockdowns is crippling the economy and may cause irreversible damage. This can be equally as lethal as the pandemic.

The way forward requires a change in paradigm in the lockdown measures but allowing society's socio-economic needs to stay above water.

The community and the relevant agencies need more data and profiling of those being infected. This profiling information must be by location, time, date and general activities of those infected in an area. Enforcement can then move in tandem in the strictest interpretation available.

The public must also be encouraged to assist enforcement agencies by providing audio and visual evidence, this will be more effective than raising fines. With their smartphone devices, the public will be the eyes and ears of the police, becoming an effective tool of enforcement that will ensure strict compliance. - Mkini

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor, G Selvakumar and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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