The Alcohol Tax Which Killed Some Dudes

An easy problem?

A bunch of guys died, and the health ministry and government struggles to respond.

Why?

Deadly alcohol poisoning from bootleg was always going to happen. Because it has got out of control for decades, and no one in power cares.

The nonchalant response from the health ministry is case in point.

This is a problem 35-years in making.

We have to go back to the 1980s. And even this is related to Anwar Ibrahim and Mahathir Mohamad.

In the wake of Anwar’s entry into the Umno government, to stave off PAS the Mahathir administration was keen to appear overtly Islamic.

An easy target was to punish alcohol consumers.

They literally get to have their cake and eat it too.

Add the alcohol tax, which only accelerated when Anwar became finance minister, which means reassuring orthodox Muslims they are fighting the sin of alcohol consumptions.

Points in the bag there. But there are more points.

The name all Malaysian drinkers know.

Radical alcohol taxes also mean additional revenue for the government.

This was the win-win situation, except the market corrects itself, it always does.

Smuggled alcohol and even scam alcohol levels in the market accelerated. In fact, towards the end of the Mahathir administration, they introduced the “special” stickers for beers, as a means to cut down on the illegal stuff.

Never worked.

Because it is always the economy, stupid. If the official beer price is still expensive,the bootleggers can always buy the sticker from “sources” because the price differential remained massive.

The Mahathir government, said that it was imperative to keep wages low so as to keep us as a FDI attraction in the 1990s. So people were forced to suffer stagnated salaries while the government kept pushing alcohol prices till it is one of the highest in the world, with its people experiencing one of the worst wealth distribution gaps coupled with low salaries.

Of course bootleg won the day.

It has been a hybrid prohibition, but a failed prohibition nevertheless.

We are a porous nation and a trading nation. Some of the biggest ports in the world are here.

Therefore players kept peddling the fake products as the conditions were always ripe.

Fake booze enforcement is already difficult, but to force people to opt for bad choices because the legal stuff is too expensive for the income levels of the country, was and still remains irresponsible governing.

The correctly priced beers in various outlets with suspicious taste and content have been on top, while the government priced beer remain in the fridges, for the rich to consume.

So these deaths as unfortunate as they are, must turn to stark warnings to the government.

And yes, a wide-scale bootleg booze industry would not persist without the help of many in all the segments related to producing, distributing and enforcing.

This is a systemic problem which is now full blown to a clear and present danger. My worry is that this government will only use this as an opportunity to become more self-righteous,and punish the distributors and avoid the real problem.

The enforcement and quality control are imperative, but they won’t work unless alcohol prices are rationalised in Malaysia. Otherwise, more bodies will follow.

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