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.

PS:

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.

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“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.

Full article – Change, but change meaningfully

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.

It’s not all that surprising

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.

Regarding public transport and KL

Regarding public transport and KL

By Hafidz Baharom

Before we begin looking at what manifestos should promise, we need to know what is already in place for Kuala Lumpur and the Greater Klang Valley.

We have two Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines, and an additional line to link Bandar Utama to Klang by 2021 – the LRT3 Line currently in the initial stages of development.

We have the Mass Rail Transit (MRT) line from Sungai Buloh to Kajang, with two more lines already under construction connecting KL to Putrajaya – which will hopefully be cheaper than the Express Rail Line (ERL). Continue reading “Regarding public transport and KL”

Time to say “No”!

Reading Naomi Klein’s “No Is Not Enough” is an eye opener to just why we need to move on to a policy battleground rather than just the acceptable “mud wrestling” spectacle that is Malaysian politics.

IMG_1889
The book. Currently being placed on a very messy table

Klein points out something that is similar to Malaysia in what happened to Hillary Clinton – while she did win the majority vote, Donald Trump won 2,600 of the 3,000 counties in America.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Continue reading “Time to say “No”!”

Us and Israel, a love hate relationship

Us and Israel, a love hate relationship

By Hafidz Baharom

We have been against Israel since Tunku Abdul Rahman declared them persona non grata in 1965. However, we have been on and off again trying to establish relations with Israel since the 1990s, dependent on whatever happens in their relationship with Palestine.

Thus, having Israelis come to Malaysia, even to attend a United Nations (UN) conference will earn you brickbats when you are the government. In the most recent case, an Israeli delegation made its way into Kuala Lumpur for the UN World Urban Forum (WUF9) which was held two weeks ago.

Thus, what has somehow become a matter taken advantage of by Pakatan Harapan, is truly after the fact that it had happened. It really is an easy target to whack anyone about voicing an anti-Israeli stance. I would know, I have done it before for a column on a now defunct online portal in February 2012.

Continue reading “Us and Israel, a love hate relationship”

Why Pakatan is freaking out over #UndiRosak

Why Pakatan is freaking out over #UndiRosak

By Hafidz Baharom

There have been so many parables over Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional that I have pretty much lost track of which one actually tells the tale properly.

Initially, it was a mere story of Pepsi versus Coke, and both of hem might trigger diabetes and make you lose your leg. And from there it has moved on to fruits A versus B, Bakery A versus Bakery B and even McDonald’s versus Ramli burger selling stalls and food trucks.

To myself personally, I’d rather look at it now and see Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional more akin to Samsung and Apple – and I’m sure tech enthusiasts might see this and experience a lightbulb effect.

The parable is simple, Apple runs on Samsung chips. And both models using the same batch of chips burst into flames due to a defect. Both have sued each other for copyright infringement, both openly mock each other in ads, and both evolve over time. Continue reading “Why Pakatan is freaking out over #UndiRosak”

The Heat Malaysia – PAKATAN REPEATING GE13 MISTAKES IN S’WAK

The new Pakatan Harapan seems set to repeat the very same mistakes that took place in the last general election, though this time the coalition cannot blame it on PAS.
Reported in the news over the weekend, both DAP and PKR are expecting to clash against one another in five state seats come May 7 — Tasik Biru, Mambong, Simanggang, Bukit Semuja and Mulu.
Adding to this, the PKR is avoiding any seats contested by PAS, the very member it kicked out of Pakatan Harapan to favour Amanah.
Thus, the first question to raise is simply what is going on?
Does the PKR still have ties with PAS that it will not deny, much to the criticism of its allies in the new alliance? This question has been raised before with the continuing members of the Islamist party still serving as part of the Selangor government.
Secondly, why are PKR and DAP contesting against one another?
While it is true that both Sabah and Sarawak are not the same as the politics we have here in the peninsula, it is still a necessity for the three parties — DAP, PKR and Amanah — to strategise and show a united front for both states and federal levels.
This is contrary to what is happening in Sarawak right now.
Historically, the Sarawak Pakatan Rakyat was the first blown to smithereens compared with that on the peninsula, when the state DAP chapter decided that PAS was deviating from the common framework the three Opposition parties set up.
A three-way split in votes — two in favour of the individual opposition parties — could sabotage the win for the pro-government parties.
To have PKR and DAP butting heads now, brings back the memories of how the contests for seats during the last General Election showed the questioning public whether there was a problem between the then Pakatan Rakyat allies.
It shows us watching that perhaps the concept of an alliance is not exactly gelling as well as anyone hoped for the national opposition parties.
And we cannot exactly call these “teething problems” because they’ve practically coexisted for two general elections (somewhat) — a decade already and tripartite ties have existed even before that under the Barisan Alternatif dating back to 1999.
Thus, perhaps it would be good for everyone for the Pakatan Harapan to come out and explain just what is going on in Sarawak as a united front. Because right now, it truly reads that there is perhaps a different concept of unity coming out from each party.
It is a necessary question to ponder right now, especially with a general election coming up in two years and we may see such shenanigans come up again. Till then, these questions need to be answered.
Even with a common framework, is there a common organisation structure among DAP, PKR and Amanah for Pakatan Harapan?
Will they be looking towards introducing such a common framework in the future, in order to come up with a proper shadow cabinet now, or even next year, or even ever?
Will Pakatan Harapan be ensuring that there will be no seat clashes among themselves for seats contested on either state or parliamentary seats in the future, or will we see the same issue raised again in Terengganu and Penang — which was what happened in 2013?
These three questions are important in order to ensure that the path towards a Pakatan victory come 2018 is even possible, to remove the excuses questioning their ability to govern (still no shadow cabinet till now) on a federal level or even to not cause petty power struggle issues to cause the loss of entire states.
And no, you can’t use the governance of one state to compare running an entire country, dream what you may.
Simply put, regardless how poorly Najib does, until there is a proper, united coalition by the Opposition parties, they may continue to dream of remaining with that label for another decade — harsh as that is.