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Govt not bound by A-G’s views

Professor Dr Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmood

THE government need not be bound by the attorney-general’s opinion that the Generational Endgame (GEG) bill for tobacco use is unconstitutional.

An expert said despite questions over the bill’s contravention of an article in the Constitution, there were still legal avenues for the bill to pull through as it was a public health matter.

The National Professors Council’s (MPN) Governance, Law and Management Cluster head Professor Dr Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmood acknowledged that the A-G, as the government’s legal adviser, played an important role in deciding whether a law should proceed or not.

“The A-G’s advice holds a lot of water. But the government is not bound to his advice and may seek a second opinion,” he told the New Sunday Times.

He was commenting on Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa remarks yesterday that the ministry hoped to table the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 before the current Parliament session ended this month.

This came more than a month after the government said the GEG Bill, scheduled to be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat on Oct 10, had been postponed.

On Nov 6, a health portal quoted a source as saying that the cabinet had decided to drop provisions to ban tobacco and vape from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023.

The source told the portal Attorney-General Datuk Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh believed that the age-based prohibitions in the bill, which seeks to ban tobacco and vape usage for those born after Jan 1, 2007, was unconstitutional.

It was reported that the issue was related to Article 8 of the Constitution, which states that “all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”.

Former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who initiated the bill, criticised the cabinet for the delay in the bill’s tabling.

Asked about the unconstitutional elements in the bill, Nik Ahmad said it could not be denied that the GEG was beneficial to public and this could be argued in court.

He said there were many laws that differentiated between people, age and gender.

“If the law is beneficial (to the people), then usually the court might say that a law that can promote inequality is necessary, and that it may not be contrary to the principle of equality.”

Source: New Straits Times

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