Source Aliran

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Kuala Lumpur City Hall has imposed a string of restrictions and compliance laws on alcohol sales that other local governments across the country might emulate.

City Hall’s move has set tongues wagging. Many are concerned that Malaysia may go the way of a few Islamic nations that have declared their territories as ‘alcohol-free’ nations – only to find alcohol imports, manufacturing, sales and consumption nudged deep into the black market.

Although consuming excessive alcohol may harm health and undermine family ties, City Hall’s new restrictions and compliance rules to curb access to alcohol, wines and beers are a mockery.

First, the ban on liquor sales at grocers, convenience stores and Chinese medicinal shops may seem to curb liquor consumption. But beer is tolerated and can be sold. Where is the logic in imposing a ban on liquor sales while allowing beer sales and ease of access?

Second, while liquor cannot be sold at grocers, convenience stores and Chinese medicinal shops, customers can still buy beer at these premises but only from 7am to 9pm daily. The logic here is baffling.

Third, outlets now have to provide separate display and sales areas for alcohol, which must be closed after the permitted hours. While businesses are struggling to get back on their knees after the lockdowns, operators now have to bear additional cost burdens to comply with the fittings, furnishings and renovations needed to create the segregated space and display areas.

Fourth, if the move to restrict sales and even ban alcohol sales is not motivated by a hidden agenda of religious bigotry and extremism but solely out of concern for the health and wellbeing of the people (as we are made to believe), why compel Chinese medicinal halls to now obtain approvals from the Ministry of Health to sell mixed or pure liquor for medicinal purposes?

Fifth, pubs, bars, lounges and restaurants with licences to sell alcohol will now only be allowed to serve liquor between 10am and midnight. And such businesses premises may apply for an extension until 2am. If this is not making life difficult, what else could it be? On the one hand, we want to become a major tourist and business destination, but on the other, we subject these ridiculously restrictive terms to visitors patronising these pubs, bars, lounges and restaurants.

Sixth, warehouses that store, sell and supply beer for events must now get a licence to sell liquor. Is this because of the percentage strength of alcohol presence or this yet another dubious attempt to rake in more earnings for the authorities?

Seventh, shophouses, hotels, malls, supermarkets and hypermarkets must now get a licence to sell liquor, which must be displayed at the entrance of their premises at all times. Does that mean a customer – whether locals or tourists – can only buy or consume alcohol at licensed premises and they will need to see such permits visibly displayed at the entrance of hotels? Is the game plan now to have a growing number of alcohol-free hotels in the country in the same way we have created ‘no smoking’ premises?

Eighth, shophouses, hotels, malls, supermarkets and hypermarkets selling liquor must not be within 100m of police stations, houses of worship, schools, hospitals, and residential houses. In a country where buildings are so close to roads and lined up shoulder-to-shoulder with a variety of businesses, does this new ruling not sound absurd? In any case, would a 100m distance purify police stations, houses of worship, schools, hospitals and homes and keep them safely away from liquor? Would that distance be increased gradually to a kilometre in future?

Ninth, businesses selling liquor must display a QR code at their premises. So, are customers now required to use their phones to scan in before entry? If so, does this not amount to policing people using advanced IT and artificial intelligence technology? Whatever happened to all the talk about respecting the universal right to privacy?

Tenth, the requirement that only non-Muslims will be allowed to be applicants and licence holders and that the owners of business premises, sole proprietors or partnerships and the majority of company board members must be non-Muslims (The Vibes, 1 November 2021) opens a Pandora’s box. While it appears to keep Muslims away from a ‘haram’ (forbidden) business indulgence, what about the revenue through tax money raked in through land leases, sales tax and licences derived from these businesses, which are then used for national budgets and development? In 2019 alone, the brewery industry contributed some RM2.3bn in tax revenue to public coffers. And don’t forget, there is an estimated tax revenue loss of RM1bn annually arising from illicit alcohol.

In a nutshell, these holier-than-thou regulations are a farce.

Surely the authorities could have enhanced their image in the global arena if they had focused on curbing drug abuse or widespread obesity among the people.

The ‘Malaysian family’ national campaign would have received a boost had City Hall spearheaded a drive against illicit drugs – that other local authorities could have emulated – instead of targeting non-Muslims’ interest in and right to liquor, alcohol, wine and beer.

After all, we all know how serious the drug problem is – from the poor man’s ‘ganja’ (marijuana) to the elitists’ access to designer drugs – and it keeps escalating year after year.

As Asean Today reported, “it seems that it’s not only the Golden Triangle of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand that should be the focus of anti-drugs operations, as Malaysia is on its way to match the infamous area. Moving from trafficking to production, the country is becoming an international drug hub.” So why not focus on this serious threat instead?