Restaurant, bar owners: Ban on alcohol and freezing new licences won’t curb drink driving, better enforcement will

R. Loheswar
Several restaurant and bar owners say prohibiting the sale of alcohol entirely will not reduce the number of accidents caused by drink driving. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, June 6 — Several restaurant and bar owners polled by Malay Mail feel the move to freeze all new applications for licences to sell alcohol and prohibiting the sale of alcohol entirely will not reduce the number of accidents caused by drink driving. 

Instead, they called for better enforcement in traffic laws, crackdown on fake alcohol sales, and urged local authorities to introduce a proper set of guidelines for bars, pubs and restaurants that serve alcohol.

They said by establishing standardised rules across the board it would be easier for authorities to monitor if new guidelines are being adhered to. 

Recently, Islamist party PAS called for a ban on all alcohol production and sales until better or stricter rules are in place to punish those caught driving under the influence of alcohol.

On Tuesday, the Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) Licensing and Petty Traders Development Department announced that it has put a freeze on the granting of new liquor licence applications, effective immediately.

A check on Carlsberg Malaysia’s website showed that Malaysia and Singapore currently have the second-highest excise duty for beer in the world. Beer in Malaysia is taxed at RM175 per litre of alcohol by volume (ABV) while Singaporeans pay S$60 (RM183) per litre of alcohol for stout and cider.

It had paid RM1.07 billion in excise duties, RM106 million in indirect taxes, RM70 million in taxes and spent RM665,000 on human capital development in 2019.

Hence for bar operator Kumar Subramaniam, the amount of taxes the government collects from the sale of alcohol is not negligible.

“There’s too much tax money on the table to let go so cutting supplies totally won’t work,” said Kumar who owns Lyang Lyang bar in Petaling street.

“As for halting alcohol licenses, as it is, it’s very difficult to obtain one. There is a lot of red tapes to go through.

“Moreover, if there are no bars around you can still buy alcohol from 7-11 right? So what’s the difference?” he asked, referring to the convenience store chain.

Kumar instead suggested that authorities should look into either reducing the number of neighbourhood bars and focus on tackling the fake beer business which is costing the government millions in revenue.

Better enforcement needed to solve drink driving

“Freezing licenses is beside the point, it's not tackling the problem. We need to step up enforcement so people will realise if they are drinking they won’t get away with it if they drive back inebriated,” said a pub owner in Petaling Jaya who declined to be identified.

“If they stop offering new licenses but there is no enforcement, then it’s just political posturing. You’re not addressing the root of the problem.”

He recalled how the authorities had one point put the onus on the owners to make sure the customers weren't drunk but pointed out that this was not something easy to implement.

“If they are really drunk then you should definitely stop serving them alcohol that goes without question.

“But sometimes, a person can drink half a glass of wine and be completely wasted while another person can drink 10 beers and look absolutely fine,” he explained.

“It’s not easy for the bartender to tell just by looking at you. Also when you’re stopped at the roadblock you may register a low alcohol level but in reality, you can’t drive the car.

“Not only that, if prices or taxes are increased, then people will polish off a bottle at the park then come to the bar and have two beers. When they drive back, whose responsibility are they?” he asked.

According to a report, the brewery industry brought in some RM2.27 billion in tax revenue to the public coffers. — AFP pic

Crackdown on illicit beer trade

Financial newspaper The Edge Markets reported in April this year that in 2019, the brewery industry brought in some RM2.27 billion in tax revenue to the public coffers.

But there is an estimated tax revenue loss of RM1 billion a year caused by illicit alcohol, according to the Confederation of Malaysian Brewers Bhd.

Apart from that, in March, Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa ordered breweries in Kuala Lumpur to shut down production, citing it wasn't a part of essential goods. This move meant the nation will lose RM189 million in revenue a month apart from dealing with the illicit beer market according to the article.

Andrew Gomez owner of The X in Bangsar and Mockingbird Family Event Space said one will feel the effects of the fake alcohol one to two hours after drinking.

“This could contribute to the drunk driving problem as it’s a cheaper option and easily available and the effects are unpredictable.” adding that some customers don’t even realise that they are buying fake beer.

Kumar said many retailers are running out of business especially now since the movement control order came in place following the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.

“People are losing jobs so they will turn to cheaper options. But that is very bad for your health and is probably a cause for quite a few of the accidents,” he claimed.

In March, Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa ordered breweries in Kuala Lumpur to shut down production, citing it wasn't a part of essential goods. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

Call for standardised guidelines and SOPs

Andrew said there is a pressing need for proper guidelines for all bars, pubs and restaurant operators as currently, enforcements are differing between the municipalities.

He said in Bangsar businesses are told to close by 9pm and everyone, including staff, must leave by 10pm but in other places it’s more relaxed and they can close at 10pm and staff can clean and leave by 12am.

Andrew’s restaurant Mockingbird only seats 17 people and plays jazz dinner music on low tones but the police informed him that there should be no music from last week but city hall authorities had told him his place was one of the best in adhering to the new standard operating procedures and had no issues with him conducting his business.

“This is why it is important for the authorities to give out a set of rules and guidelines to outline what we can and cannot do and then the authorities and the shop owners can refer to that book in case they get checked.

“The differing opinions between the police and city hall are difficult for us.

“I feel if this keeps up, businesses that haven’t reopened will be apprehensive to do so as they will be worried about being harassed by the authorities,” said Andrew.

Andrew pointed out that within Bangsar itself, restaurants that serve alcohol without licenses are allowed to play music, but bar cum restaurants can’t, even though they have all the required licenses.

“We were told that we are not allowed to play Astro as well as anything on television. The environment for business is so bad and we have the atmosphere of a morgue without televisions and ambient music,” he added.

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