Is government protecting airport taxis and limos?

The question needs to be asked, especially in lieu of the new notice from the Road Transport Department (JPJ) that e-hailing drivers are now no longer allowed to pick up passengers at airports.

This was announced yesterday after a Grab driver was issued a summons for picking up a passenger at Penang International Airport.

However, with this happening in Penang, will it just be limited to Grab?

After all, in the Penang state, MBI Group does own an e-hailing firm there called Mula. For those not in the know, MBI Group was red flagged by Bank Negara Malaysia last year. Is this e-hailing service banned as well?

Similarly, do we need to talk about banning MyCar from KLIA as well? Also, didn’t the government under the MOT launch a new ride hailing app for taxis and limos as well? Will this e-hailing app be banned since it does not involve those already in queue at the airports?

There are two ways to look at this issue. The first, of course, is going all Ayn Rand libertarian Atlas Shrugged, and how this is hindering people from running a business and offering the cheapest fare.

The second, the direct opposite, is to look at what is considered fair practice, fair fares, for both drivers and passengers.

There is, of course, a third event where it is directly communist and how everyone can either take an airport taxi or limousine, or go for only the government owned ride share so that government gets the income directly.

All three situations have their ups and downs.

But more importantly, I would look at this the same way the government imposed the smoking ban. It started out easily at indoor areas, before suddenly heading to national parks and even open air eateries and even roadside stalls.

That said, hopefully the government will not go about limiting e-hailing cars from picking up passengers anywhere else, such as public transport hubs, or even hotels – because this would then show that the government is putting in measures to not protect consumers, but to protect taxis.


If you want government contracts, then stop calling it a New Malaysia

I wasn’t surprised when PPBM VP Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said it would be stupid not to give contracts and works to division leaders of the party so that they can gain cash to service their divisions.

I wasn’t even surprised when this was followed up by him saying the party needed to win elections “by hook or by crook”.

I was, however, surprised that nobody mentioned that the former Electoral Commission Chairman was also formerly a member of the Perkasa echelons. Were we really expecting anything different from this group.

Similarly, what shocked me the most, is that these statements were met with a standing ovation and cheers instead of the rational reaction of gasps and boos.

Thus, it is clear that the new Malay party is not so new at all. Instead, it seems that Malaysia truly voted to replace one man’s cronyism with another man’s cronyism.

If such is true, then Pakatan Harapan need to stop selling the narrative of a “Malaysia Baru” or New Malaysia – because what has happened through PPBM is the replacement of the Umno cronyism mentality with that of a PPBM cronyism mentality.

Worse still, how is it that this preference for PPBM division heads is suddenly part of the Cabinet meeting agenda held on Wednesday’s?

Yes, we do need a new Malaysian mindset, where we maintain agendas needed to raise the disadvantaged to get on their own two feet. However, when we talk about the “disadvantaged”, it should not be focused on just one race – it should be focused on economics and income.

Of course, if you wanted to, you could even add on the need to support large families on middle level incomes as well.

The biggest question that PPBM needs to bring up is this – what is the Bumiputera agenda?

The answer is that it is the same as all other agendas – class war, rural urban divide, not enough spots in public tertiary institutions and the lack of access to financial backing.

How is this any different from anyone else? Truth is, it isn’t.

But….there are more Bumiputeras than anyone else in the country by a ratio of 3 to 2. And 70 percent of that population voted to maintain the same old 60 year government that everyone else called corrupt to the core.

And some of their elected leaders have now jumped ship and are expecting to support the government in return for funding to do exactly what Rashid said was stupid not to do.

If you don’t jump in to care for these leaders, their constituents would then believe they have voted for nothing and lose hope for the change towards this “new Malaysia” narrative marketed by their leaders.

Or….you could explain to Malaysians that a “New Malaysia” is not about getting a payoff, or getting money to increase your monthly income like a bonus, or even about getting a job to earn income to show off your status to the rest of the community that you can hand out money for their needs.

What if….the New Malaysia marketed is one where the poor and the leaders come together to look for a solution together, where requests for development are considered thoroughly and solutions generated are put to the community for funding first before a demand on a government in deficit?

What if…the New Malaysia is one with a RM200 million fund collected since their victory to do such things in rural townships for the benefit of such small communities?

What if…rather than have tycoons thinking of getting refugees working in their companies by establishing in Turkey, they thought of doing similarly for those here in Malaysia?

Think on that, then think about what you want for a New Malaysia. If not, just end the bloody narrative that is simply a pot calling kettle black.

Letter – Can ICERD undo xenophobic barriers?

It seems the country is divided on whether Malaysia should sign the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

So, I would do what I usually do first — open up a web browser, google it, read a Wikipedia page and subsequently the links attached.

And this is what I found.

I find it ironic because this convention historically was introduced to contain anti-Semitism.

Just looking at our current Prime Minister, it is quite the irony.

While Lim Kit Siang is right in saying there are Muslim countries who have signed the ICERD, he omitted to mention that many of them do not bother recognising the need to refer disputes on racial discrimination to the International Court of Justice.

Of course, it is also interesting to note that the ICERD was used by the Romani people — also known as Gypsies — against both Slovakia and Serbia and Montenegro, restrictions on freedom of movement and residence, and access to public spaces.

Meanwhile, the convention has also been signed by nations who do not see it implying any obligations beyond the limits of their existing constitutions.

So, now I have a few questions which seems to be asked to the legal sector. Let us start with the biggest one in the room. If Malaysia does sign the ICERD, will the government then guarantee the privileges (not rights) of the Malays as per the Federal Constitution?

Considering how this government could not even keep its promise of splitting up the Attorney-General and Public Prosecutor roles per their manifesto, it is clear that anything requiring 2/3 of Parliament support will not happen any time soon.

Thus, the Malaysian Malays should not have such a concern.

However, there are a few more everyday issues in Malaysia that needs to be considered. What about things that are not guaranteed in the constitution and offered to the Bumiputera community?

Are these going to be reconsidered, and opened to become for all Malaysians?

There is nothing specifically in the constitution guaranteeing a Bumiputera discount on housing, or even a Bumiputera priority in business contracts or even bank loans.

Under Article 153, it does however put the right to a Bumiputera quota for the civil service, and universities, colleges — pretty much everything after the SPM in the hands of the King.

It is of course, up to the King to decide what is a “reasonable” proportion of “scholarships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training privileges or special facilities given or accorded by the Federal Government” to be put aside for the Bumiputeras, as per the Article.

That being said, I see the ICERD with another point of interest especially since I live in a rented property in a condominium complex and have seen some racially tainted shenanigans going about.

For example, if the government does sign the ICERD, what action will they take against property owners who discriminate against Africans in Malaysia? What legal recourse is the government thinking against this form of racial discrimination?

Can the same action be taken against Immigration officers who decide to detain migrant workers, marking it a hate crime?

Also, can the Bangladeshis, the Africans, the Nepalese and even Indonesians here file hate speech reports against the authorities or even the daily angry customer or delivery boy who jeer on them with racial slurs at cash registers, in a fresh market or even at apartment security gates?

Similarly, since employment will be seen as needing to be racially equal, will there be further checks and requirements placed on listed companies to show their racial equality in their corporate structures?

Could people in the same company, on the same corporate level, with the same years of experience, proving they have had the same score in annual KPI reviews and yet earning different salaries, subsequently take their complaint to the authorities that the company was racially biased?

I am not so much concerned about the case of race and religious rights and leaving that for the King and the Sultans to act on this.

I am more concerned, however, towards the everyday actions taken for granted, where we see people mock migrant workers, miss a promotion in corporate structures over race, even unto foreigners who cannot rent a property or get a Grab car based on their skin tone.

The signing of ICERD will in fact police all of these under Articles 2, 3, 5 and 6 of the convention. In fact, should anyone bring up how a proposed rail line will bring in “foreigners into their township”, it will also be against the convention.

For myself, if signing the ICERD guarantees that everyone including migrants and Malaysians are treated with respect — that there will be legal recourse for them against discrimination based on race against companies, e-hailing car drivers and their app owners, listed companies who promote along racial lines, members of the police, the immigration department, and even teachers and lecturers who use racially tinged mockery for a laugh, then more power to it.

Temple fracas: Not new for Selangor, but…

The supposed temple issue in Selangor is not a new one. In fact, ever since a Pakatan Harapan government took root in the state under Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, there have been continued issues with the relocation of Hindu temples.


Case in point, the temple move in Shah Alam early in the days of the new government in 2008 almost reached a boiling point when a public hearing almost led to chair throwing. It was the same time that Khalid Samad had his picture trampled in the grounds of the state mosque. It was the same period as the cow head protest march towards the State Secretariat (SUK) building.


So in this sense, nothing new.


Even on the basis of having instigators paid for to march, it isn’t new – refer back to the cow head march a decade ago.


What is new, however, is the fact that this time around, there was damage to private property. What is new, is that the instigators are allegedly from a law firm based in Malaysia, paid for by the company who wants to take the land away.


What is also new, is that the government has now detained 30 people to assist with the investigation, a member of the Malaysian Fire Department was critically injured, and that the temple had received RM1.5 million in compensation and is now refusing to move.


The Selangor state was right in considering the Mid Valley Solution, where the temple continued to remain on the grounds of the development. However, when the developer has legally settled the issue with a payout and the temple committee backs out of the deal without offering to return the money, we definitely have a problem.


So, perhaps a few things need to happen here – the temple needs to return the money, the developer needs to reconsider a Mid Valley Solution, and everything else is just irrelevant if the two issues are settled.


If neither side believes in returning back to the negotiation table, then there will continue to be an issue of unrest just waiting to happen.


Since the courts have ruled for the developer, there really is no legal basis for the temple to remain there other than a mob defending it. What happens when they decide to just go ahead and demolish it?


Is the government going to continue to post police right near the temple to maintain the emotional mob even then?


And while Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed has announced that future houses of worship will require local council approval – does he understand what he is asking?


Consider Malaysian Christian shoplot churches or Chinese roadside shrines – are you truly going to now tell them that they need to go and file a document with the local council on whether they can do so or not?


And what if they don’t? Will they then see their worship under threat, closed down by local authorities, play the injured martyr and subsequently have the rule of law make an exception over and over again?


Then why bother with the registration at all?


The problem with half baked thoughts made into regulations and laws which in the end, end up being enforced and subsequently ignored, is that Malaysia has plenty of them. Thus a different solution needs to present itself to ensure the local community and the worshippers of whichever deity or religion are secured.


One way to handle this is not to have a registration with local councils, but also to make it mandatory for any house of worship to hold a public hearing for the community within the area particularly the residential associations.


While some may argue this will put the right to freedom of religion at threat, it does no such thing. All it does is ensure that local communities have a say and are informed of the establishment of religious institutions and raise their concerns while removing the threat of later issues.


The second thing to do will be a bit technical and would require the government to intercede. The government needs to establish a land trust for all religious institutions – particularly temples.


The issue with such establishments, particularly temples and suraus, is that it is established by communities without proper land titles or any protection from developers. Having it placed under a trust would allow the government to intercede with the issue of temples, churches, and even suraus and mosques built by local communities to be protected.


When government reconsiders and understands that worship is organic, usually by the demands of the community at one point in time which later on either thrives or withers, it allows the issuance of measures to ensure whether or not the established house of worship needs to move, or will remain protected.


And this will later on ensure that the government (either state or federal) gets a handle on dealing with the matter before it blows up to window breaking and midnight marches torching cars.

Letter – A caucus, approval delays, sabotaging Lynas?

A caucus, approval delays, sabotaging Lynas?

By Hafidz Baharom

Since last week, it is as if the government insists on shifting goalposts when it comes to the Lynas Advanced Material Plant in Gebeng.

Not only did the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (Mestecc) under Yeo Bee Yin put the company into an academic review committee and public hearing, now Lynas is being delayed by pending approvals from a department under her ministry and an awkwardly established bipartisan caucus.

Allow me to point out the awkward – if this caucus idea goes through for a business that has not breaches a single regulation as heard during the public hearing, will we be doing it for other industries as well?

Will we have a caucus on illegal migrant labourers in plantation, manufacturing and construction companies? How about a caucus on the supposed third national car project? How about another one for cryptocurrency including the Harapan coin?

How about the Alliance Steel mill in Pahang which was in breach of regulations during Deputy Minister Fuziah Salleh’s visit in July? What about the Damansara Shah Alam Highway construction which shook the surrounding buildings earlier this month?

What about the Penang constructions on the hillsides which have killed people?

Are they all not subject to a public hearing and a committee of academics scrutinising their operations?

Now, about the delay.

Apparently, Lynas needs permission from the Department of Environment (DOE) under Mestecc to process the raw materials already imported, to increase their output. Without this approval, Lynas production will be temporarily halted in December.

This is a ridiculous regulation akin to allowing Carlsberg to bring in extra barley and yeast, but not letting them make more beer. Seriously, do we do this for gas power plants as well?

Do we tell Silterra which produces semiconductor wafers  to apply for surplus output, while having sand waiting in their plant?

But it is what it is – and the DOE is suddenly delaying it. Perhaps Yeo is in the know, perhaps she is not. One wonders if there is an element of sabotage after the public hearing did not go their way.

Obviously, this is not under Fuziah’s purview since it does not involve sharia compliance or even a halal certification, which would put it under her ministry.

So is this the new Malaysian government’s way of sabotaging a company just to keep its voters happy and to keep to their propaganda of fear?

They could not convince the regulators to show Lynas as irresponsible, they could not get a committee of academics to find factual evidence of the danger of Lynas, so now they are delaying approval for the company and adding a caucus to review the academic review to make it go their way.

I’m asking this government, specifically Mestecc and Yeo Bee Yin to come clean because this is getting rather ridiculous. If this is the way the government wants to move forward with new industries, emerging industries and even projects that have an impact on the environment, then apply it to all, not just Lynas.

Otherwise, it can only be construed as the government discriminating and sabotaging Lynas for being Lynas, and nothing else.

Shadow budget comments

Goods and Services Tax (GST)

Reintroducing the GST will generate more revenue for the government. Even if set at 3 percent, an estimated revenue of RM16.5 billion would be worth it.

However, it would have been better off if the shadow budget had recommended a tiered GST system instead. For those who can recall, the previous government had an issue beforehand of introducing 66 new items which were exempted from GST which could be considered luxury goods. Swordfish steaks and frozen imported vegetables were among the items on the list.

A tiering of the GST would have allowed the government to go line by line and analyse what items were consumed as necessities, and what reflected lifestyle choices.

As Tony Pua once said the B40 don’t buy Coke, it would be clear that the snide remark was in fact a reflection of a lifestyle consumption choice rather than a necessity.


Soda Tax

No. If anything, Malaysia needs to reconsider it’s diet for sure, but a soda tax is not the way to go. Carbonated beverages are only the fourth largest drink consumed for Malaysia – tea and coffees take the top two.

As such, a sugar tax on canned and bottled beverages would be fairer to businesses as well as consumers looking to make a healthier choice.

After all, retailers have started including non-sweet canned and bottled drinks for both teas and coffees as an alternative to avoid the tax hitting consumers.

A detail to consider would be the sugar content – what is healthy and what is not? To allow sugar taxation, such a level needs to be set, with anything in excess taxed. This would be a fairer taxation system to all.

Plus, it will also exempt the food and beverage industry that mixes their own drinks to serve. However, higher retail outlets may want to push consumers to offset the tax, rather than absorb it themselves.


Remittance Tax

This was an idea worth reconsidering, but it also gives concern that it may be xenophobic. Yet, at the same time, it is a clear way to tax outflows from the country which would only apply to funds heading out rather than coming in for business.

While this has been proposed by economists before, setting a rate of 6 percent seems high especially when we are a nation relying on foreign labour – personally, it sounds as if we wish to further exploit foreigners from the fruits of their labour.

At the same time, it would allow the government to further track illicit outflows of cash – and that makes more sense than a capital gains tax which would impact Malaysian nest eggs.


No, smokers don’t have less rights than Malaysian LGBTs

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 ( 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

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.

“Super” Liberal

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.

A sugar tax makes sense – a soda tax doesn’t

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.