No, smokers don’t have less rights than Malaysian LGBTs
By Hafidz Baharom
A short piece appeared on Southeast Asia Mashable had a Malaysian lawmaker (https://sea.mashable.com/malaysia/779/lgbt-community-has-more-rights-than-smokers-malaysian-mp-lam) saying that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT). Malaysians have more rights than smokers.
Kinabatangan MP Bung Mokhtar Radin was quoted saying this after seven people and one lawmaker were fined for smoking in Parliament grounds, now a designated and enforced smoke free zone. And this cannot be further from the truth.
Earlier this year, a club was raided by the authorities for being labelled a LGBT club. Do you see cigar and cigarette shops going through something similar? Obviously not.
Do you see portraits and photographs of smokers being taken down during art festivals simply for smoking a cigarette? Nope.
Do you have homes and even hotels being raided for having someone inside smoking a cigarette, or being taken to court for simply smoking in your car? Of course not. That would be ludicrous.
And obviously you don’t get beaten walking down the street simply for smoking because that would be insane. Yet, this is what happened to a transgender in Negri Sembilan on 15 August this year.
More recently, do editors get a show cause letter from the Home Ministry for writing about smokers? Because this happened to Chinese newspaper Oriental Daily in this month. For some reason, it was not reported in the press. Perhaps because the same hush letter was received by those writing about it, or maybe the editors believed it not to be newsworthy.
Yes, Bung Mokhtar was saying such in jest. However, the discrimination faced by the LGBT community are not in the same league as smokers – let alone LGBT smokers who face both, and yet end up lending lighters for a straight guy to impress a girl.
But the Kinabatangan MP does have a very minor point – not having a smoking area in Parliament is discriminatory. Just like not allowing LGBTs to be themselves in closed, private places such as clubs or even their own homes, or even have a portrait or picture featured at an art gallery, or even a piece of news quoting them, is discriminatory.
Thus, if Bung Mokhtar is griping about smokers not being able to smoke in parliament, then he should be able to empathise with the transgender who cannot walk down the street without being harassed by the authorities.
If Bung Mokhtar believes that perhaps the authorities will raid parliamentary offices to check for smokers, he can empathise with the Malaysian LGBTs who get raided in their homes by enforcement agencies.
If Bung Mokhtar thinks it is in bad taste to fine smokers, then he should empathise with the Malaysian LGBTs caught going to clubs only to end up getting fined and being given a mandatory ticket to attend counselling.
So if Bung Mokhtar wants to take the issue seriously about smokers rights, then we would like him to take the issues faced by the LGBTs and human rights here in Malaysia just as seriously as well, if not more.
See, unlike smokers who can switch to a non-nicotine vaping device and not get caught as mentioned by the Deputy Health Minister, LGBTs don’t have that same choice.
Why taxing sugar, not soda, makes more sense
By Hafidz Baharom
While the government continues to talk about a need to introduce new taxes in Malaysia, it seems too keen to just implement a soda tax rather than do an all round sugar tax instead. Why?
Well, perhaps they are more keen to tax the likes of Pepsi and Coke, rather than Nestle. Or perhaps it is the fact that they just want an easy out rather than focus on the objective of wanting to cut caloric consumption of Malaysians to combat diabetes.
The latter of course makes no sense unless you speak Malay. The framing of how sodas cause diabetes is because sodas are sweet and the Malay term for diabetes is “kencing manis”, which literally translates to “sweet urine”.
Thus, it is easy for the government to simply frame soda as the cause of diabetes, rather than go through an expansive and thorough explanation of how it is the amount of calories consumed and stocked up inside each individual body that makes someone obese and subsequently puts them at risk of diabetes.
That said, sodas are not even the Top 3 top consumed drinks in Malaysia. A survey seen on Statista puts the top three drinks in Malaysia drunk regularly in 2016 as coffee (60.83 percent), tea (60.12 percent), and juice (54.18 percent).
In fact, more Malaysian respondents drank bottled water compared to soda – a fact that perhaps any anti-plastic minister would like to look into rather than just look at soda companies as the culprit.
So if this government wants to truly look at a way to combat diabetes, it needs to start doing two things – first, it is to look at ending this tax on sodas, and instead looking at taxing all foods and beverages by sugar content.
It would also mean taxing sugar and all similar products (high fructose corn syrup) sold to consumers and businesses. That, by itself will mean taxing everyone from Pepsi to Coke to Nestle, all the way down to the goreng pisang seller at the side of the road and the mamak mixing the teas and coffees.
Can this be done? Sure it can.
All you have to do is tax it at its source – the government would tax Pepsi, Coke, Nestle and F&N for the amount of sugar or fructose syrup they use in their products during the manufacturing process. The tax would also apply to the sweet soy sauce, the tinned curries and pastes, and even the sugar sold on the shelf directly to consumers.
At the same time, the producers and importers of sweeteners such as the gula Melaka syrup, mixed honey (those clearly with sugar added) and even juices, flavoured milks and even condensed milk, will be taxed with a measure of sugar content per 100 millilitres (ml).
Because let us be real, most Malaysians drink more sugar in their teh tarik and Nescafé at the mamak rather than a bottle of Coke. The survey points it out clearly.
So, what’s the challenge of introducing a sugar tax rather than a soda tax?
Here’s the problem – how will these importers and producers drill down the tax to consumers, and how would consumers react?
And here’s the question – why the heck would the government care, if it believes on taxing sugar will lead to healthier people?
Or perhaps, the goal is not healthier Malaysians, and just scapegoating sodas to make revenue for itself to pare down the national debt?
This is the dirty truth about the government – it wants to remain popular, and wants to make a quick buck without pissing off too many people. In doing so, it would rather introduce a soda tax, accusing sodas as the cause of diabetes (it’s not) and then saying that this tax would help reduce such cases (it won’t).
And this is where it gets icky. The government is set to introduce new taxes whether we like it or not.
The soda tax has been talked about a lot in the last week, with the Ministry of Health holding a session with 12 various NGOs and experts from the medical sector, with only 2 representatives from the industry for a round table.
Gee, I wonder how that went down.
Renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz has said that the government should introduce a carbon tax instead, which is pretty much hopeless considering the government still insists on a third national car project while also wanting to protect the petrol and energy sector to keep tariffs low.
Plus, adding a sugar tax after reintroducing the Sales and Services Tax (SST) which was supposed to make life easier for Malaysians, would definitely impact more goods, restaurants and produce than the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was abolished, probably even impacting the upcoming Ramadan Bazaars and cookie freelancers during Hari Raya even worse.
So perhaps the government can do one of two things – either end this selling of a fallacious notion that they are “taxing people for health benefits”, or really introduce proper taxation for health benefits.
Either way, Malaysians can look forward to being taxed for a beverage that has minimal impact if you drink the non-sugar alternatives such as aspartame and stevia, while juices, soy milk and even coffee, tea, and Milo which is full of sugar, continue to be sold at market prices and contribute to the same “diabetes” label the government sold to the masses.
Also, keep an eye out for capital gains taxation, because this will impact your EPF, your KWAP, your unit trusts, and even your ASB. Good luck, Malaysia.
I couldn’t help but laugh at a recent Starbucks hangout session. A close friend complained that the current ruling coalition was dashing hopes of a “new Malaysia”, particularly after feeling pained by the label of being a “super” liberal.
For myself, I couldn’t help but guffaw at the title – “super liberal”, used by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had used recently during a campaign speech held in a mosque in Port Dickson.
At the same time, I was curious that such a political gathering could be held in a mosque, particularly since I’m from Selangor where His Royal Highness the Sultan is adamant against having such speeches in a religious institution.
So, what exactly is a “super liberal”? I find myself pondering this question for a week or so because honestly, most of what is being advocated is just plain liberal. In fact, most middle class Malaysians are more “light liberal” rather than full fledge liberal.
Perhaps what Anwar meant was the extremist liberals? Those advocating gay marriage, full fledge meritocracy, secular identity and the abolishment of privileges bestowed purely from an accident at birth determining race?
The image I conjure up of an extremist liberal would be someone wanting total free market ideology at all costs, even if it included doing business with dictatorial nations. Those who argue there should be no minimum wage or even welfare handouts, instead letting the market handle these freely.
A “super liberal” would probably believe, from a healthcare system, that everyone should pay their own way rather than expect the state to do so. They would also believe that government should have no say in religion, and religion should have no say in government.
Instead, a “super liberal” would suggest followers of such religions provide the means and pay the way for their own beliefs rather than depend on state coffers to fund it.
This would be my mental image of a “super liberal”. But that’s not what a Malaysian “super liberal” is at all. Instead, what is being advocated by the people targeted and grouped by Anwar are just liberals. What made them super is advocating any of these in Malaysia, a society that is getting further and further into a conservative rut.
In other words, Anwar is pandering to voters.
In a Malaysian context, a “super liberal” is anyone who believes that everybody should be treated as equals from birth to death regardless of their sexual orientation, race, religion, gender and even their status in society.
A Malaysian “super liberal” is one who believes nobody deserves to be penalised for stating an opinion, loving someone, and even having the audacity to single out and call out anyone who creates wasteful by-elections – be it in Kajang or Port Dickson – simply for political gain at the cost of government funds.
Of course, a “super liberal” is also someone who thought those advocating #undirosak were “sick in the head”, and then are hypocritically advocating doing just that in the Port Dickson by-election.
And yes, I will be extremely and liberally smug about that fact.
By Hafidz Baharom
I was intrigued by the suggestion of Tony Pua to tax sodas, even if his line of reasoning that the “Bottom 40” income group “do not need to drink Coke”. If we want to go into technicalities, nobody really needs to drink Coke regardless of their income levels. It is pretty much a want, humanity needs only water.
Although to be fair, Tony was alluding to a good policy. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had wanted to end selling sodas to a certain gigantic size which got blowback as a “War on the Big Gulp”.
Also, let me be frank – sugar in moderation is fine, it is just that we have been excessive consumers of sugar for far too long.
At the same time, why tax sodas when you can tax sugar, right after removing the price controls on the commodity? On a side note, petrol is subsidised, but talk to anyone in the sugar industry and they will say it is not a subsidy, but a controlled price. I know – it’s still a subsidy.
A sugar tax makes more sense than a proposed soda tax, especially when a lot of canned retail beverages hide their sugar content behind labels such as “energy drinks”, juices, even milk and cordials.
Also, let’s be frank, sugar is sugar, all sugar is natural in all forms, and just because you hide behind terms of sucrose, fructose and glucose doesn’t make sugar healthier. Thus, a proposed tax should definitely be worded to include all of these.
But before we go any further – what exactly is the objective of this tax? While it is directly to increase government revenue, are we actually aiming to promote healthier lifestyles for Malaysians by encouraging them to cut down their sugar intake?
If it is to encourage a healthier population, then we do need clarify how excessive sugar impacts government expenditure – particularly in the case of healthcare. Go far enough, and you can link sugar to obesity and subsequently how it impacts the maintenance of government owned assets from cars to elevators.
However, if it is just to “stop the B40 from drinking Coke”, it sounds rather discriminatory.
At the same time, a sugar tax would also attach itself on foods and restaurants which also have high sugar content as well, which would move towards healthier eating. But more importantly, it will move the industry to innovate towards sugar substitutes – it could be natural like stevia and honey, or more chemical compounds such as aspartame.
Some have pointed out that a sugar tax will not change the lifestyles of people who will still want an original soda rather than those with no sugar or a sugar substitute – I disagree. If a sugar tax is high enough to the point that those dishing out soft drinks the most (read: fast food operators) decide to switch to the non-sugar counterparts, it will have an impact even if it is a minuscule one.
However, we should be cautious introducing a sugar tax, particularly because it will impact small and micro traders – the food and beverage stalls at food courts, and even the mamak restaurants will be the worst impacted by this move which will subsequently domino down to consumers directly.
But such is the price for a healthier Malaysia.
That being said, we should really move away from sugar and try the alternative sweetened sodas, as well as trying to use these alternatives in our foods. But at the same time, these alternatives must obviously be cheaper, or the public will revolt.
If this is how the government wishes to proceed to make up for the shortfall from the recently abolished Goods and Services Tax (GST), then more power to them. However, won’t such a tax also be regressive, their own argument against the GST before?
I would think the worst impacted by the introduction of a sugar tax will be the same group that were against the GST, which is the middle class. Thus, perhaps it is something to ask them before the government proceed.
For myself, I don’t mind if the government decides to move towards a healthier lifestyle through nudging the public with taxes – they’ve done it with alcohol and cigarettes for ages. But at the same time, I believe in offering alternatives which are less harmful. If a sugar tax were introduced, then there should be a push towards sugar free products and artificially sweetened products as well.
No, using fruit juices as a sweetener should not be exempt, as it is still sugar. And then, of course, there are “health nudges” that I’m sure we are not ready for.
A friend pointed out that rice was actually worse than sugar – based on an advertorial video on Malaysiakini. But I have yet to go too far off the bend to tell a predominantly Asian food culture country to cut down on rice, just like I won’t go to Italy and tell them to dump pasta.
Maybe in another decade or so.
Change, but change meaningfully
By Hafidz Baharom
It was an awkward week when you have a prime minister saying that a government linked investment company did not achieve it’s objective of furthering the Bumiputera agenda. Mostly because he was talking about Khazanah Nasional Bhd, which I’m not sure if it even had the duty of furthering a Bumiputera agenda.
That being said, yes – the Board really needs to explain how on earth a venture into women’s lingerie was considered a good deal at RM80 million. But more importantly, I also have this question playing in my head – which lingerie company actually lost money and shut down.
Was it Sloggi? Was it Wacoal? Was it Triumph?
I would have added Victoria Secret to that list, but from what I’ve seen in Malaysia they don’t sell their lingerie in their stores here. And for those further wondering how yours truly knows these brands, well, I’m observant at the malls. That, and I used to do the household collective laundry growing up.
However, when you vacate the entire Board of Directors and then place the prime minister and a member of his cabinet on the Board, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Yes, it is a government linked investment corporation, but so was 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
They had a board with political patronage as well, a combination of politicians and corporate sector individuals – it still did not bode well. Thus, we need to ask – why involve politicians at all in these investment corporations?
Surely after mentioning that there was enough talent in the Pakatan Harapan rank and file, as well as its close corporate allies, there are enough people to take those posts and be professional about it?
There must exist a separation of government and business to avoid patronage and nepotism, and remove the risk of conflicts of interests. It must be said that government linked corporations as well as their investment corporations – Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB), Khazanah Nasional, and even the Employee Provident Fund (EPF) – should be hands off from political influence. This is especially important for the PNB and EPF because these are the future savings of all Malaysians.
One of the excuses put forward is this is how the companies have been run since the time of their establishments. Well, I am pretty sure the Malaysian population voted for this government to change things that were awry to begin with, yes?
After all, for many years pass we heard Pakatan lawmakers facing the accusation that their leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as a former Finance Minister made the decisions that they opposed. And for those same years, Datuk Seri Wan Azizah would stand up and say “if it was bad, why not change it?”.
The same question now applies to Pakatan Harapan. Why not change decisions that do not tally with their internal beliefs of reducing the power of the prime minister and even going further and removing every single thing they opposed when they weren’t in power?
Why do we still have a debate on child marriages when some 40 plus year old has been in love with a girl since she was 7, and subsequently marry her at the age of 11?
How could you promise the EPF deductions for wives from their husbands account without even noticing the law wouldn’t allow it?
Why is it more important to have a constitutional guarantee to the internet, when we haven’t even held anyone responsible for the telco leak ages ago?
Is it more important to remove LGBTs from serving in the government, or is it more to retain talent and reward it without thinking about what goes on in someone’s bedroom?
How is it that we can cancel public transportation projects and yet, still go about reconsidering the want for a third national car company, forcing people to pay for petrol, maintenance, road tax, car insurance and even the tolls which are supposed to be abolished in stages?
There are a lot of things still pending for this government and while we do want to give them some leeway for being new at their current jobs, the ideas being generated are outdated, avoiding, and some are just silly. Do we really need to debate black versus white shoes when we need education reform on a higher level?
Whatever it is, I do hope this government bucks up soon because the supposed changes promised to their supporters is slowly becoming sillier by the day.
Yet another person came up and said that they were disappointed with the way Pakatan Harapan is running the country. And yes, these are people who openly admit they voted for Pakatan Harapan.
Which I think is odd, seeing as how the new government has only been in power for…86 or 87 days, at the time of writing this?
It seems that there are those who miraculously thought that a change in government would lead to some form of certain revolutionary change taking place as soon as possible.
Then again, we are in the age where a thought is shared every second, every waking hour and people being more connected than ever before in history. News used to come daily, is now updated at the minute on social media, and on average every 15 minutes by the media.
That being said, to those who are voicing out their disappointments – chill.
Yes, there are things they promised to be implemented in 100 days, and they are in the midst of doing it or finding new impediments to their thoughts.
Yes, more hereditary issues are being brought up with the need for urgent solutions.
And yes, they are talking about really dumb things in the midst of getting work done as well, particularly as a diversion as to how slow government and public policy works.
More than that, they are facing real issues in hiring their workers and political appointees, with the Public Service Department highlighting where the process has been slowed down.
Yes, there are hiccups in implementing policy in terms of the EPF deductions for wives because they didn’t read the law before coming up with a proper framework.
Yes, they really should be talking about real education reform rather than be bitching about wanting black shoes so that students can “read more books” – though I personally think it’ll just free up more time to be spent gaming or on social media.
But more than that, there are good ideas, bad ideas, good reforms, and of course the same old, same old thing happening in certain areas.
This is what government is, if you haven’t noticed throughout your entire life span. It is a machine run on red tape, with legal jargon to read and a lot of “what ifs” to cover in coming up with policy and reforms, lest you break the entire system or create legally grey areas all around.
That being said, the decision towards open tenders is admirable, but it will instead create longer timespans in getting work done – I do hope the government and the people know this much especially when they’re calling for urgency in reformation.
This is the sacrifice you make when wanting transparent government.
Similarly, there has been very little word on legal reforms, particularly a focus on the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill that should be passed to encourage transparent government.
Also, with the Social Security Act (Sosma) now becoming 50-50 with some ministers saying it should be maintained while others want to keep the promise of abolishing it, there is a need for some clarity on the matter.
All in all, they are doing what you voted them to do, even if you are not happy with the urgency they are working on it – but that just shows how much and how fast you expect transitions to take place. This is admirable, but folly.
After all, this is the first government transition in a nation that has never seen such a change. Keep that in mind, and expect things to move slower than you think it should.
Yet another bright student has failed to get a placement in a university and is now appealing the decision via Twitter to Dr Maszlee Malik. However, there are a few things to consider in this case.
Yes, she scored brilliantly in her Sijil Tinggi Peperiksaan Menengah (STPM) results. Had she already been in university, she would have made the Dean’s List award for sure, with a 3.92 CGPA. But there are a few things suspect.
According to the article published in SAYS:
“The brilliant student had six university choices in mind: Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia (UIA), Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) and Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA)”
Now let’s start with the most glaring problem here – UiTM and UIA enrolments are restricted. One by race, the other by religion.
Yes, that’s wrong, that’s unfair, that’s downright indecent, “let’s take to writing up a petition on Change.org”, throw a fit on Facebook and get it changed accordingly – or at least talk about it for another week and then just forget it.
But – if you know those university enrolments have been restricted for the past 40 years or maybe longer, would rational thought tell you to still list those universities on the UPU form?
At this point, we have to suspect whether she truly wants admission into a university, or she wants to challenge the entire system of enrolments altogether.
So if the student is in fact wanting to advocate social change, congratulations on your courage. But if that wasn’t the case at all, you should have really paid attention during the UPU briefing.
Moving on to the second problem with the UPU process. It does look at merit, but it also looks at your choice priority. This needs some elaboration.
For example, let us say you scored a 3.6 CGPA and put UM as your first choice, and yet someone with a 3.8 CGPA put UM as their third choice, which one of you would get the UM placement?
Well, you would get it for putting UM as your first priority. Thus, the UPU does not only take merit into account, but also your ranked priority of choices in all universities.
And yes, students are briefed on this in secondary school, contrary to the many cases of confused masses out there. If I, at 35, have to go back and remember a briefing given at the age of 17, more than half my lifetime away now, then you should be able to recall these details which just happened months ago.
So, how does the government move forward on this issue?
First off, there is a need to re look all universities and admission officers including the UPU to weed out corruption – primarily in the form of students attending interviews for placements being asked “do you have any contacts to reach out to, to get a placement?”.
Yes, this is still happening. Yes, it is widespread. And more importantly it raises the question – why is there already such a question if you’re still interviewing people for placements? Are there already reserved slots even before the interviews?
Secondly, students, this one is on you – please don’t expect your results being great to break glass ceilings everywhere with regards to race and religion.
More importantly, be sure of your priority ranking in the UPU form. Aim high, but be realistic – this is rather important and I know it’s rather awkward because at that age, many really have no clue what they want to do in their life or whether it suits them.
Now, to the general public, here’s something to think about. If we are to base solely on merit, we discredit passion and more importantly, the equal opportunities afforded to everyone. Just because someone got great results, they’re not treated to a red carpet treatment into a university even after making a silly choice.
That would be discriminating wisdom and shrewdness for lackadaisical intelligence. Of course, both traits should be celebrated, but not when there is such a system as the UPU which puts merit and a student’s choice on the same measure.
I do wonder where Dr Maszlee Malik stands on this matter, though. Would he open up UiTM and UIA, or would he review the UPU procedures to ensure merit is priority one over everything else?
Seriously, there are a few things that need to be considered when we look at the performance of Pakatan Harapan as a government.
Primarily, there will be enormous teething problems that – while some are wildly optimistic – will not be settled within 100 days of them being in office.
And secondly, yes – they will have to rethink their promises as time moves forward for the sheer scale of what they promised was not thought up properly. Or to make it well known – their populist manifesto promises are going to bite them in the ass.
Thirdly, now that they are in power, expect all of them to have different thoughts on how well to move forward. True to their word, this isn’t the past Mahathir era where everything was done his way or build another highway.
Instead, what we have is pretty much sheer chaos until Wednesday when Cabinet meets and they come up with a collective decision. Well, at least they’re democratic in that sense.
Fourthly, don’t expect big changes so soon. However, there should be changes in the direction the country should be headed. And by that, I mean we should not have to subsidise yet another national car company with taxpayer ringgits.
But all in all, they do have their head in the game, even if I’m astounded they’re taking so long with the changing regulations regarding child marriages.