COMMENT BY PROF DR.P.RAMASAMY, DEPUTY CHIEF MINISTER II, PENANG
The new guidelines of the DBKL, or Kuala Lumpur City Council forbids sundry shops, convenience stores, grocery and Chinese medicine shops to sell alcohol to the public with effect from October 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 the special permission of the Ministry of Health.
While the new guidelines imposed, there is growing fear that these might represent the slow but sure curbs on the constitutional rights of non-Muslims.
A number of persons including Amanah’s former deputy minister has questioned this move as a curb on the rights of the non-Muslims.
Even the leaders of the country’s Veteran Association have taken DBLK for task force being insensitive to the constitutional rights of non-Muslims.
Some associations like the Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) have welcomed the move by DBKL.
For them the control on the sale alcohol was significant to resolve social problems among the poor and the means to reduce accidents resulting from the unregulated consumption of alcohol.
The Federal Territory MIC had 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 means that drink driving is the major cause of all accidents in the country.
The Minister of Federal Territory Annuar Musa (pic) defended the guidelines as something universal and that Malaysia is not the only country that have introduced these.
However, to date, he 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, without licenses and not following rules. More than two-third of all fatalities are from riding motorcycles. More than 89 percent of the motorcycle fatalities consists of youths.
If DBKL’s new guidelines is 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 Chairman 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 business 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 prevents effective enforcement?
Maybe Annuar should reflect on this matter before going for 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 in the FT.
Failure in law enforcement cannot be used to punish the owners of the small premises. Why is there a class bias in the new guidelines by allowing well-capitalised establishments having a non-restrictive atmosphere when comes to the sale and consumption of alcohol?
So, it is plainly obvious that drink driving might have caused some accidents in the past, but definitely 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 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 relation to stifling the rights of non-Muslims.
These rights cannot be stifled by coming out with pro-Islamic narrative, this might have high political costs or implications.
In this respect, ways and means have to be found what is more in a territory with considerable presence of non-Muslims to experiment 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 Malaysian Indians, 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 under the new Malay-only government.
It is obvious that there is a sinister PAS agenda behind these new measures. Is it a surprise 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 not follow upon the example set by FT.
Let us not be mistaken, the constitutional rights of non-Muslims is not just about the sale or consumption of alcohol, they are much more than that.
It is about respecting their rights as enshrined in the Constitution—the right to own property, to sell products and to engage in legitimate business activities.
Alcohol is a small item in the sale and consumption; why use the oppressive arm of the state to deny this.
It is not all non-Muslims drink alcohol. There are many of them who do not drink and to some, alcohol is as objectionable as 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 shop keepers?
It might be the new guidelines on the sale of alcohol now, but what stops the DBKL under its over zealous minister to go for further measures to curb the rights of non-Muslims?
PAS leaders must be all in smiles.
They have succeeded in something that long remained elusive for Umno.