KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Rahman said today that the government has never revoked the requirement for coffee shops to have liquor sales licences, adding that the matter has been delegated to state governments instead.
“For your information, YB, I want to stress again that the licensing for sale of liquor is under the Licensing Board, appointed, as I said earlier, via delegation of powers of the finance minister to the mentri besar or chief minister through a 1977 gazette order.
“Accusations or claims that the finance minister has cancelled that delegation of power is not true, as mentioned by you YB Damansara,” he said, in response to Damansara MP, Tony Pua who had posed questions on the issue.
Tengku Zafrul said that the government also did not intend to cancel any approvals for the time being.
Pua first asked Tengku Zafrul the rationale for the Customs Department’s recent regulation requiring coffee shops and restaurants to apply for liquor licences to sell beer/stout to non-Muslims next year.
The Opposition MP claimed this requirement interferes with the life and businesses of non-Muslims in the country.
He also asked the minister to state the number of businesses affected, related licence fees, the amount to be collected and the penalty for those who disregard the new regulation.
Tengku Zafrul said that the requirement for liquor sold at shops to be licensed has always been under the Excise Act 1976.
He added that liquor sale licensing falls under the jurisdiction of the Licensing Board, which is appointed by the finance minister and delegated to each state mentri besar or chief minister through an order promulgated in 1977.
“Therefore, any licensing for the sale of liquor must obtain the approval of the Licensing Board in accordance with Section 35 of the Excise Act 1976. To date, no amendments have been made to the delegation of authority where the state government is empowered to decide on liquor sale licences.
“I admit that recently, this raised confusion in the implementation and enforcement of liquor sale licences at the state level. I would like to assure once again, that the delegation of power through the order gazetted in 1977 will remain unchanged,” Tengku Zafrul said.
Pua said that going by Tengku Zafrul’s clarification, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong had misled the public on the matter.
Pua noted that Wee had made a Chinese post on Facebook claiming that he had met and discussed the liquor licence issue with Tengku Zafrul, after which the latter had ordered the Customs Department to cancel all requirements for such licences.
“This means that the licence application instruction was not revoked, as announced by the MCA president,” Pua said.
He then asked Tengku Zafrul why the MoF did not just revoke the delegation of power to the state government.
“Local authorities such as the Kuala Lumpur City Council which previously had controversies about the sale of alcohol in Chinese drugstores, will definitely enforce this order and persecute coffee shops that only sell beer or stout to non-Muslim customers.
“These are small coffee shops, looking for a little income, selling beer to non-Muslim customers. I want to ask the minister, what is the reason for the MoF to not directly cancel this order so that no direct power should be delegated to the state governments?
“Also, has this matter been discussed in the Cabinet and have our friends over there such as Wee Ka Siong or those from the GPS agreed with this matter, so that this matter will no longer burden the small traders whom we know are struggling to earn an income out there now?” he asked.
But Tengku Zafrul reiterated his earlier reply.
The finance minister said he had ordered the Customs Department to immediately take the necessary steps to update all order documents as well as guidelines to ensure such confusion does not arise again.
“Necessary actions will be taken to sort this matter, latest by the end of this year. Therefore, any issue regarding licensing or exceptions from licensing are subject fully to the powers of the state governments,” Tengku Zafrul added.
Yesterday, Bagan MP Lim Guan Eng said that the MoF should exercise its powers and ensure coffee shops and retail outlets are not subject to liquor licences the likes of which have never been imposed before.
Lim said this was a bad idea as states under Islamist parties like PAS would most likely impose new rules and further burden already ailing businesses with unwanted levies.
In Kuala Lumpur, the ban on selling liquor at grocers, convenience stores and Chinese medical halls was enforced on November 1.
While customers can still purchase beer at such premises, they can only be sold from 7am to 9pm.