AUGUST 2 ― Bakri MP Yeo Bee Yin has called for more time to study the Tobacco Product and Smoking Control Bill 2022 (Bill No. 29/2022), widely known as the Generational End Game (GEG) Bill, before the Dewan Rakyat votes on it.

Yeo was reported to have compared the Bill to the New Zealand’s (NZ) Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Bill which was introduced on June 26 and first read in the New Zealand Parliament on July 26 ― a day before the GEG Bill was first read in the Dewan Rakyat.

The NZ Bill proposes to (a) limit the number of retailers able to sell smoked tobacco products; (b) prevent young people from taking up smoking by prohibiting the sale of smoked tobacco products to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009; and (c) make smoked tobacco products less appealing and addictive.

It is NZ’s bold plan to eliminate smoking and eventually render sales of tobacco completely illegal.

The key element of the plan is the introduction of a so-called Smokefree Generation, meaning anyone born on or after January 1, 2009, will be banned from ever buying tobacco products. (See Chris McCall, “A smoke-free generation: New Zealand’s tobacco ban”, The Lancet, Vol 399 May 21, 2022).

The NZ Bill has been referred to its Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and public submissions are being called and accepted before the closing date on August 22.

Yeo has accordingly raised questions why MPs have been given such a short time span to debate the GEG Bill.

“New Zealand MPs are given four months to consider amendments to an existing law, but Malaysia MPs are expected to decide in less than a week for an entirely new bill. Is it right for Malaysian MPs to support a bill without much deliberation in the name of good intention?” she asked.

Given that the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) for Health, Science and Innovation, and the PSSC on Women, Children and Social Development have also raised issues of concern, and provided recommendations, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin should seriously consider referring the GEG Bill to the Dewan Rakyat’s own PSC to consider the Bill just like the Constitution (Amendment)(No.3) 2022 Bill.

It will be a step in the right direction.

Bakri MP Yeo Bee Yin has called for more time to study the Tobacco Product and Smoking Control Bill 2022 (Bill No. 29/2022). ― Picture by Miera Zulyana
Bakri MP Yeo Bee Yin has called for more time to study the Tobacco Product and Smoking Control Bill 2022 (Bill No. 29/2022). ― Picture by Miera Zulyana

Let’s appreciate, again, the reference to the PSC. It will allow the GEG Bill to be scrutinised. It will enable the details of the Bill to be discussed in a less formal manner but in a definite order, where each and every clause (in the order in which they appear), and schedules and preamble (if any) will be reviewed.

The PSC will have the power delegated by the Dewan Rakyat to, among others:

― send for persons, papers and records ― this is the key evidence-gathering power and includes the power to call witnesses;

― appoint specialist advisers; and

― exchange papers and/or meet concurrently with the two PSSC above, allowing collaboration between the committees and greater cross-cutting work.

The most important power is the first, that is, to send for persons, papers and records. This will allow the PSC to draw on academic research and evidence in the field.

The PSC can hear views from a wide cross-section of public and expert evidence and witnesses when conducting its inquiries on the GEG Bill. It may even employ academic or industry experts to act as special advisers for the duration of the inquiry.

Evidence submitted, either in writing or in person, may therefore contribute to changes to the Bill.

Scrutiny will iron out the flaws in the GEG Bill, one of which is the wide-ranging powers of “authorised officers” ― defined to mean any officer appointed by the Minister under clause 24 ― under Part IX (Enforcement) of the Bill.

One of the powers is the power to enter “any premises” at any reasonable time.

The NZ principal Act ― Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990 ― does not authorise entry into “a dwelling house or other residential accommodation.”

Yeo is rightly concerned with the powers of the Malaysian authorised officers.

“Why do [authorised] officers in Malaysia need so much power that New Zealand officers don’t? Do these clauses infringe personal privacy and human rights?” she asked.

So, let’s emulate the Constitution (Amendment)(No.3) Act 2022 Bill, which was referred to the PSC. Let the PSC do the hard work to get to a collective agreement on the GEG Bill and report to the Dewan Rakyat.

Like the Constitution (Amendment)(No.3) Act 2022 Bill, the GEG Bill too can move mountains.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.