SEPTEMBER 20 — The recent incident where 19 people died due to alcohol poisoning is a national disaster. Fifty others are hospitalised with some of them being in serious condition. This incident proves that the government has completely failed and taken the wrong approach in regards to taxation on alcohol beverages.
Law enforcement agencies such as the customs and police are also to be blamed for failing to stop fake alcohol productions and contraband alcohol. These law enforcement agencies have most of the time been complicit in the crime by their corrupt practices.
This is a million ringgit game and causing the government to lose billions in taxes. I would blame the death of these 19 people on the government due to its greedy approach in imposing high taxation. Excise duty for alcohol beverages in Malaysia is believed to be one of the highest in the world.
The excise duty on alcohol in Malaysia can reach as high as 50 per cent and this does not include the 10 per cent sales tax, and 6 per cent service tax if purchased in a restaurant or bar.
The cost for a Johnie Walker 70cl should not cost more than RM100. However due to excessive taxation, the bottle could cost RM180-200 in a supermarket and RM350-450 in a bar. The same goes to a can of beer. It should not cost more than RM50 for a crate of Carlsberg or Heineken as these are produced locally.
Taking our minimum wage of RM1,000 as an example. The average guy who purchased a Johnnie Walker in a bar for RM350 on a nights out, that would be 35 per cent of his salary. This is crazy! He has then no choice but to turn to contraband or cheap liquor.
The government’s policy on excessive excise duty has only encouraged the illicit market to flourish. This has resulted in the people consuming alcohol beverages that are poisonous, with high content of methanol, most of the time going unnoticed.
There are hundreds of bars and clubs in Malaysia that are selling fake alcohol beverages unnoticed. These businesses are ripping in huge profits and making easy money as they sell their drinks at the same price of original ones.
These days, it is really unsafe to purchase alcohol beverage in many bars and clubs, coffee shops and mini markets. These outlets are filled with contraband and fake products.
The reasoning that high taxation on alcohol discourages drinking does not hold water. Many other countries with such high taxation has indeed failed to stop its population form consuming alcohol.
Drinking alcohol beverages is a culture for many societies in Malaysia and around the world. It has been a long time practice for humans in the planet to indulge in some relaxation, social time, family time and nights out with alcohol beverages.
This can never be stopped. What the government should focus on instead is to encourage responsible drinking. We need to educate our people on drinking safely and responsibly. Now, we are in a system where those responsible drinkers are being punished because of a few bad ones.
I view excessive duty on alcohol as a way to gain income for the government rather than its care for the people. It is a backdoor taxation system and daylight robbery. It is time the government reviews its failed policy on alcohol beverages.
There should be drastic reductions in excise duty to enable the people to enjoy quality drinks. This would also kill the illicit market and in turn also increase revenue for the government.
There should be an all-out war on the illicit market. Enforcement agencies should start to take this issue seriously and go all out stop this episode from turning into a national emergency. Imagine the same beers and whisky that caused the death of the 19 people making its way to many other outlets and night clubs.
We would be witnessing thousands of death in a single day. It only takes the mixing of a wrong recipe and disaster would be ready to strike.
Brewery companies and liquor producers, suppliers in Malaysia should also play a huge role in combating the illicit market. Constant spot check on outlets should be conducted to test the quality of their beverages. They should also play a part in keeping the prices of their drinks low by reducing their profit income.
We have no time to waste. Members of Parliament should raise this issue in the coming sitting and move to take steps from preventing this disaster from further repeating itself.
I also urge drinkers to raise up and start questioning our government on the high taxation of our alcohol beverage. Stop the complaining in the bar and start to engage your MP’s directly. Send them a message, letters, emails and pressure them to push for the reduction of sin taxes in parliament.
A time would come when a bottle of Johnie Walker would cost us RM 500 in the supermarket if we do not make our stand now.
Stop excise duty on alcohol, all-out war on fake and cheap liquor!
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.