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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Malaysian Alcohol and Tobacco Board

A Malaysian Alcohol and Tobacco Board
M. Bakri Musa

The recent controversy over the sale of beer in Selangor underscores the need for a more sensitive and enlightened policy to handle issues that predominantly affect one community. Often they are handled crudely and ineffectively, resulting in increased inter-communal suspicion and hostility.

Another ready example is the issue of stray dogs. The real public health menace, apart from the esthetic matter of dog poops all over the place, gets buried in the racial overtones of the ensuing discussions. Then there are pig farms. Yet these are readily solvable if only we are willing to learn from others and strive hard not to fall into the ready-set racial trap.

Consider the sale of alcohol; it touches at the heart of Muslim sensitivity. Yet there are real public health concerns regarding its unrestricted sale. In America, alcohol is the number one factor contributing to homicides, road accidents, and domestic violence. In my practice I see all too frequently the ravages alcohol inflicts on the human mind and body.

In America, the sale of alcohol to a minor is a felony; serving drinks to an intoxicated guest (at home or in the bar) exposes the host to civil liabilities for injuries caused by the drunkenness. Sobriety police roadside checks are a feature at weekends and holidays. A doctor arrested for drunk-driving risks losing his or her medical license.

Alcohol is a dangerous and destructive drug; it should not be made readily available like chewing gum.

In Canada the government has exclusive control over the sales and distribution of alcohol. You have to go to a government-owned store to buy wine or beer. Canada’s British Columbia (BC) province controls the sale of alcohol through its two agencies. Its Liquor Distribution Agency (LDA) has exclusive rights to import, purchase and distribute all manner of alcoholic beverages. LDA then sells them through its own BC Liquor Stores. Incidentally, LDA is one of the province’s top employers.

BC’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch issues licenses to bars and other establishments that serve alcohol directly to customers to be consumed on the premises. It inspects the facilities for compliance with public health and other standards, conducts educational sessions for licensees on the responsible serving of alcohol, and runs background checks on its licensees.

Malaysia should have its own Alcohol and Tobacco Board (MATB) that would have exclusive rights to import, purchase, distribute, and sell all alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. It should also have exclusive powers to grant licenses to bars and clubs in the manner of BC’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch.

The system would work thus. MATB would buy the alcohol brewed by local manufacturers, from Carlsberg to the local Nathan Toddy Producer, and then sell the products directly in its stores as well as to retail customers like bars and toddy shops. Carlsberg and all the other producers would sell their products only to MATB; they are of course free to export. MATB would also have exclusive rights to import all alcohol products.

MATB would do the same with tobacco products. In setting up its outlet stores, MATB would have to follow strict guidelines as to proximity to mosques, schools and playgrounds.

Additionally, MATB would have the sole authority similar to BC’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch to grant, monitor and revoke the license to bars, clubs and other similar establishments.

Such a government entity would also reduce two major problems associated with both alcohol and tobacco: the importation and sales of contraband and fake products. With contrabands there is the obvious loss of state revenue, and consequent corruption with its corrosive effects, with fake products there is the associated health hazards especially with adulterated alcohol products. About a third of the tobacco products sold in the country are either contraband or fake products. With alcohol, the figure is definitely much higher especially with the premium brands.

As MATB would be a monopoly, it should be extremely profitable. To discourage its directors and staff from drawing excessive salaries, MATB would be a GLC with a salary scheme comparable to the civil service.

I am assuming that we can create a government enterprise that is free of corruption and cronyism. I realize that is a great supposition. I am also very much aware that such an agency would attract the corrupt like maggots to rotten meat.

If MATB is wildly successful, the government would benefit directly both from the increased profits and taxes. If it behaves like a typical government entity such that buying beer would be as trying as getting your driver’s license, then society too would benefit from the decreased sales and consumption. Thus society is completely “hedged;” it would gain either way.

The greatest benefit is that it would remove a highly charged racial issue and convert it into a profit-making scheme. That is reason enough to adopt my suggestion.


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