KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — The Ministry of Finance (MOF) should defer the enforcement of beer sales licencing for coffee shops and restaurants instead of delegating the responsibility to state governments, said former finance minister Lim Guan Eng.

In a statement today, the DAP secretary-general said the matter was under the purview of the Ministry of Finance, as clearly stated under the 1976 Excise Act, and not covered by any specific state laws.

“The Finance Ministry should not hand over the power to decide to the respective state government but continue to postpone the enforcement of licencing of beer in coffee shops and restaurants. In other words, the postponement should be reinstated and not reversed. 

“This power is under the purview of the Finance Ministry, including the penalty for selling liquor without a licence can be fined RM50,000 under the 1976 Excise Act, and not under state laws,” he said.

Lim’s statement came after Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Rahman told Parliament earlier 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.

Lim pointed out that Zafrul’s explanation contradicted a statement on December 7 by Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong that the Royal Customs Department would cease enforcement of liquor licences for sales of alcoholic beverages in retail outlets following orders from MOF.

The licencing was scheduled to be enforced from January 1 prior to Wee’s announcement.

“By not revoking the circulars by the Customs Department as claimed by Wee but letting the respective State Licensing Authority decide whether to obtain a licence to sell beer is worse off than the previous position where Customs Department and the Finance Ministry did not recommend the requirement of a licence.

Lim also said that the matter would further exacerbate shrinking margins for businesses as they must pay a hefty fee to sell beer on their premises.

This would also affect the customary lifestyle of non-Muslims that have been in practice since independence, he added.

“The coffee shops and restaurant associations had previously expressed fears that 60 per cent out of 15,000 restaurants and 80 per cent out of 20,000 coffee shops nationwide may cease selling beer if the new regulations come into force.

“This would reduce the avenue for many non-Muslims to enjoy their beer in legally licenced shops as normal because operators may not think it is worth paying between RM840 and RM1,320 for a license when they can hardly earn sufficient profits from selling beer. 

“This interferes in the freedom and affects the customary lifestyle and normal business practices of non-Muslims that has been in force since Merdeka without any public complaints,” he said.

Delegating the powers to enforce a beer licence to state governments also posed certain risks, especially to state governments controlled by PAS, Lim reiterated in his statement.

“By letting state governments decide, there will be some state governments influenced by PAS extremist policies that will implement these new regulations on non-Muslim coffee shops and restaurants which they had no power previously. 

“So far only the PH state governments have stated that they will not disrupt the current practice and therefore not require licensing of the sale of beer in restaurants and coffee shops. Who will bear responsibility for the additional costs and inconvenience faced by coffee shops and restaurants should some state governments impose the licencing requirement?” he said.

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.