Reservations have been voiced about imposing fines based on the daily income of offenders, a suggestion mooted as part of the recent debate on the difference in compounds issued to so-called VIPs and regular Joes for violations of Covid-19 health SOPs.
The unit of fine, known as a day-fine, represents the amount of income that would have otherwise been earned by the person detained.
The system, similar to the method used to calculate income tax, is currently practised in several European countries such as Finland, Germany and Switzerland.
Carmelo Ferlito, a senior fellow at think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said any implementation of the day-fine system must be preceded by an agreement that the main ratio behind the punishment is financial loss, which varies according to individuals.
“It is controversial because it implies that financial punishment is at the root of the punishment itself,” he said, adding that only a small number of countries apply the day-fine system.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he also warned of significant obstacles to efficiency including the need to collect the required financial information in order to set the amount of fine.
This would be costly as offenders would have no incentive to reveal such information, he added.
He suggested instead a system in which the nature of the offence is taken into account.
“The amount of fine should not be defined by the punitive prevalent narrative over Covid-19 risks, but should be balanced and determined according to the real size of the offence.
“RM50,000 for failing to register with the app is totally out of balance both for the rich and the poor,” he said, referring to the maximum compound amount for breach of health SOPs.
A fine of this amount was recently imposed on a burger seller in Kelantan who was found to have operated his stall beyond the permitted hours.
The move sparked a backlash online, with many social media users questioning the decision to fine him the maximum amount.
They also compared his case with that of celebrity businesswoman Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor who, along with her family, was fined a total of RM60,000 for breaching SOPs at her wedding.
Ultimately, Carmelo is in favour of a legal system where “certainty and objectivity prevail”.
“Laws and punishments can never be a replacement for education in addressing issues,” he added.
“You cannot transform law enforcement into an instrument of punishment of an ethical nature.”
Ahmad Marthada Mohamed, dean of the College of Law, Government and International Studies at Universiti Utara Malaysia, said the day-fine system has its merits but agreed with Carmelo that there would be problems in implementation.
He pointed to the US which he said had tried using the day-fine system before reverting to a flat rate system.
“Discretion by judges is still the best way to determine the fine,” he said.
“We can see that now, where first-time offenders can still appeal the amount of fine with which they were slapped.”
In any case, he said, the amount of fine is secondary.
“What matters is that those who violate the law, including VIPs, be brought to justice.”