By Dr P Ramasamy
The new guidelines of the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) forbid sundry shops, convenience stores, grocery and Chinese medicine shops to sell alcohol to the public, with effect from Oct 1, 2021.
Under these measures, alcohol will not be sold in shops that are near schools, hospitals, places of worship and police stations.
Furthermore, shorter operating hours will be imposed on bars, restaurants and pubs serving alcohol to their customers.
Chinese medicine shops selling medications with alcohol content will need to get special permission from the Ministry of Health.
There is a growing fear that the imposition of these new guidelines would represent slow but sure curbs on the constitutional rights of non-Muslims.
A number of persons, including Amanah’s former deputy minister, have questioned this move as a curb on the rights of the non-Muslims.
Even the leaders of the country’s veterans association, Patriot, have taken DBLK to task force being insensitive to the constitutional rights of non-Muslims.
Some associations, like the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), have welcomed the move by DBKL.
For them, the control on the sale of alcohol would be a significant step to resolve social problems among the poor and the means to reduce accidents resulting from the unregulated consumption of alcohol.
The Federal Territory MIC also lauded the move as a way to reduce alcohol consumption among the Indian working class.
The points raised by CAP, the MIC and others might be valid in some aspects.
But then, these organisations do not examine the reasons why the new guidelines were introduced, whether there is a political motive and whether the restriction and control of alcohol consumption can reduce fatalities from car and motorcycle accidents.
Just a few high profile vehicle accidents resulting in fatalities do not necessarily mean that drink driving is the major cause of all accidents in the country.
The Minister of Federal Territories Annuar Musa defended the guidelines as something universal and that Malaysia is not the only country that has introduced these.
However, to date, Annuar has failed to mention in detail about the regulation of the sales of alcohol in other countries.
Annuar makes the same mistake by linking the high rate of motorcycle accidents leading to fatalities with alcohol consumption.
Apparently, it seems he was also influenced by some high profile cases where fatalities occurred due to drink driving.
However, consideration of facts surrounding the cause of accidents might reveal a different picture totally.
It has been found that more than 60 percent of motorcycle fatalities occur in rural areas, mainly resulting from not wearing helmets, riding without a licence and not following rules.
More than two-thirds of all fatalities are from riding motorcycles. More than 89 percent of the motorcycle fatalities consist of youths.
If DBKL’s new guidelines are based on the need to curb accidents, then the information provided is simply not sufficient.
Just like the appearance of a swallow does not make summer, a few high profile fatalities resulting from alcohol consumption do not make drink driving the major cause of road fatalities in the country.
Well, if there is no conclusive evidence of the link between road fatalities and drinking driving, why the eagerness to clamp down on the sale of alcohol in the above premises.
The chairperson of the Excise and Licensing Board, DBKL, Lau Beng Wei, said that the new measures were aimed at regulating the sales and not curbing them.
But isn’t the restriction on the sale in sundry, convenience, grocery and Chinese medicine shops an outright ban? Is Lau an apologist for DBKL?
Before the new guidelines were passed, what was the nature of consultation? It appears that it was a one-sided affair.
The consultation was mainly with government agencies and a few members of civil society, organisations that uncritically went along with the views of the DBKL.
Chinese and Indian businesses and commercial groups were not invited in the so-called stakeholder engagements.
There are already existing rules that forbid the selling of alcohol to students and minors from these premises.
But the authorities have failed to enforce the law. So, what is preventing effective enforcement?
Maybe Annuar should reflect on this matter before moving further to place curbs on non-Malay traders.
Maybe we should ask the question to Annuar himself, as to why he is not an effective minister for the Federal Territories.
Failure in law enforcement cannot be used to punish the owners of small premises.
Why is there a class bias in the new guidelines by allowing well-capitalised establishments a non-restrictive atmosphere when it comes to the sale and consumption of alcohol?
While it is plainly obvious that drink-driving might have caused some accidents in the past, it definitely is not the major cause of fatalities.
There is no conceivable need for the new guidelines to be imposed, other than some ulterior political motive on the part of this new illegal backdoor government.
If I am not mistaken, Annuar has come under pressure from the religious leaders in PAS to adopt pro-Islamic measures.
In this country, unfortunately, pro-Islamic measures must be seen in relation to stifling the rights of non-Muslims.
These rights cannot be stifled by coming out with pro-Islamic narratives, for this might have high political costs or implications.
In this respect, ways and means have to be found as to what is more in territory with the considerable presence of non-Muslims to experiment with the latest initiative.
This is where unreliable statistics were manipulated to justify the latest guidelines.
Unfortunately, given the lack of foresight of some non-Muslim organisations like MIC and others, the government’s argument about the “alcohol threat” was taken seriously.
What a shame on MIC for forsaking the rights of non-Muslims!
This forgotten party of Indian Malaysians cannot simply say yes, without realising the larger effect of these guidelines on the rights of non-Muslims.
It is without question that the constitutional rights of non-Muslims have been infringed and made a mockery of under the new Malay-only government.
It is obvious that there is a sinister PAS agenda behind these new measures.
Is it surprising that some PAS leaders have not only welcomed the new guidelines but encouraged their adoption in other states?
Well, if a non-Muslim area can accept the new anti-alcohol measures, why can’t states with substantial Malay-Muslim populations not follow upon the example set by the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur?
Let us not be mistaken; the constitutional rights of non-Muslims are not just about the sale or consumption of alcohol as they are much more than that.
It is about respecting their rights as enshrined in the Federal Constitution – the right to own property, to sell products and to engage in legitimate business activities.
Alcohol is a small item in sale and consumption; so why use the oppressive arm of the state to deny this?
Not all non-Muslims drink alcohol. There are many of them who do not drink, and to some, alcohol is as objectionable as it is to Muslims.
If the earlier measures are not working, it could be due to lack of enforcement or the endemic problem of corruption in some circles.
But why punish the petty traders and shopkeepers?
It might be the new guidelines on the sale of alcohol now, but what is to stop the DBKL – under its overzealous minister – to go for further measures to curb the rights of non-Muslims?
PAS leaders must be all smiles.
They have succeeded in something that long remained elusive for Umno.
(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)
This article was first published in Malaysiakini on 30 November 2020. The link is here.
Dr P Ramasamy is the state assemblyman for Prai and the Deputy Chief Minister of Penang.