Wednesday, April 29, 2020

MPs urged to pass Covid-19 bill

The Star

PETALING JAYA: The Bar Council’s Conveyancing Practice Committee has called politicians to put aside their differences for the sake of the country to pass a Covid-19 bill in the coming May 18 Parliamentary sitting. 

At a webinar meeting yesterday “Adequacy of our laws on stratified properties during and post-MCO”, president and panellist Datuk Roger Tan said without this bill, there would be massive litigation, done on a piecemeal basis, for failure to perform contractual obligations after the lifting of the MCO. 

To avoid that situation, the enactment of such a bill would at once cover all contractual obligations to be performed on or before a certain time. 

“Singapore, the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, Scotland and even Hungary have done it, ” Tan said. 

“This bill would provide ‘a legal shield’ to all businesses big and small, and across all sectors of the economy. 

Tan said these measures were temporary and should be in place for a prescribed period. 

“In other words, the non-performing party’s liabilities will be suspended and non-enforceable during the prescribed period, ” he said. 

The enactment of such a bill is to “safeguard” against any unfair outcomes, Tan said. 

Another panellist, National House Buyers Association honorary secretary-general Datuk Chang Kim Loong said while the government has granted financial assistance in various economic stimulus packages to sustain and “re-start” business, it has not looked into the legal issues to shield businesses and individuals for non-performance of their contractual obligations. 

This “relief” is of utmost importance as contracts and agreements are part and parcel of our everyday lives. 

“People need protection, contracts need protection, ” he said. 

A buyer may have undertaken obligations to buy a house but he cannot arrange a loan due to the MCO. This is a disadvantage to him and he cannot to sued for failure to do so. So such a bill is to protect the little man. 

Or you may have planned to get married in a hotel but because of the MCO, the hotel forfeits 50% of your booking fees. 

Or a company may have some obligations which it cannot perform because of the MCO and this involves millions or billions of ringgit. 

A Covid-19 bill provides that legal shield for all parties, a “time-freeze” while both parties pick themselves up and carry on. 

They need time to pick up speed, what some may call “the injury time”, said Chang. 

On calls by some lawyers to use certain sections of the Housing Development (Control and Licensing) Act 1966 (Act 118) & Regulation to enable the minister to make regulations to prescribe certain forms of contracts to be used by a developer, and/or to regulate or prohibit the conditions and terms of any contract, Chang said this is flawed. 

Unilateral and retrospectively change is not possible, he said. 

“The best option to address failure to perform contractual obligations is a Covid-19 bill, a stand alone act to protect all contracts in the market, ” Chang said. 

A third panellist Wong Kok Soo, technical advisor for the Association of Valuers Property Managers & Estate Agents in Private Sector Malaysia (PEPS) said it is unwise to waive monthly charges for stratified properties although there is a provision to reduce the rate of monthly charges and to waive late payment charges. 

This is provided this is agreed upon after convening an annual general meeting or an extraordinary general meeting, both of which would be sticky given the need for social distancing even post-MCO. Wong said the pool pump has to continue working although the pool cannot be used, otherwise algae will grow. 

“The cost of rehabilitating some of the services will be even more extensive. Security services and disinfectant services will be needed as exemplified by Menara City One, Selangor Mansion and Malayan Mansion. 

“Whatever little savings you can save, you will have to spent more for disinfectant services, for clothes, face masks, aprons and sanitisers to help safeguard the community living there, ” Wong said.

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