Simply no logic in this SOP
Published on: Sunday, November 08, 2020
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DUE to the recent spike in Covid-19 cases in Sabah, the Federal Government decided to re-implement the Conditional Movement Control Order (“CMCO”), which has to date, been extended until 9th November 2020. 

I understand the rationale behind the implementation of the CMCO and commend the efforts of our Government in taking a firm stand to combat this unprecedented pandemic. 

Nonetheless, the Sabah Government recently issued an updated guideline on the Standard of Procedures (“SOP”) in respect of the CMCO in Sabah. 

Among the activities allowed to operate are those concerning the economy and industry, performing official government duties, obtaining basic necessities and seeking medical treatments as well as emergency upon obtaining permission of the police.

The President of the Sabah Law Society, Roger Chin, has received confirmation from the appointed spokesperson for the Sabah Government on Covid-19, Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun, that law firms are allowed to operate under the following conditions: -

For law firms with staff not exceeding five persons, they can operate at a capacity of 100pc and

For law firms with staff exceeding 10 persons, they can operate with a reduced capacity of 50pc (lawyers are included as staff for the purposes of such calculations).

Based on the above, our law firm is operating with strict adherence to the SOP as stipulated by the State Government. However, we are facing great hardship in view that a majority of the government departments on the state level are either closed, operating only for half a day or working by appointment basis such as the Land and Survey Department (JTU) and Kota Kinabalu City Hall (DBKK). 

It has been established that the legal profession plays a critical and dominant role in the nation’s economy by supporting and enabling sectors such as real estate, banking, and operations including contracts and transactions.

In order to serve the best interest of our clients, legal firms are required to deal with government departments such as the Income Tax Office (now operating only from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.), whilst the Department of Insolvency, National Registration Department and the Court Complex remain closed. 

Further, the Lands and Surveys Department is operating from 8.30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and with strict conditions being imposed in that a law firm is only allowed ONE appointment in a single week and that itself is being limited to a maximum of THREE transactions per appointment). This has proven to be impractical especially since most legal firms have more than three transactions a day.

On this note, I question the implementation of these guidelines in view that the private sectors are allowed to operate daily based on strict adherence of the SOP laid out by the State Government, then why can’t the government departments do the same?

For legal firms doing conveyancing work, there are strict timelines to be observed i.e. the payment of the balance of purchase price could only be processed by having the Memorandum of Transfer of the assessment and quit rent endorsed at DBKK or Penampang District Council (PDC) and thereafter lodging the same with the Central Land Office or District Land Office. 

If these various government offices remain closed and/or restricted to shorter working hours (some of which only operate on an appointment basis), we fear that we are unable to act in the best interests of our clients if certain deadlines are not met, there is a danger of them losing their deposits, which can amount to a large sum that may be unbearable. 

I understand there have been civil servants who may have been found to be positive carriers of the Covid-19 virus and for the safety and wellbeing of the remaining staff, it is only prudent for these government offices to be closed in order for the said premises to be fully disinfected and for the Sabah Health Department to facilitate the process of contract tracing. 

Nonetheless, these offices should only be closed temporarily as both the government and private sector would need to work hand in hand in keeping the economy afloat.

Therefore, we appeal to the Sabah Government to allow the government departments to work every day for the full office hours (with 50pc staff strength) while observing strict compliance with the SOP so as to ensure that certain transactions can be expedited efficiently for the sustainability of legal firms and the economy as a whole. 

Concerned Lawyer

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