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.

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.

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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”!”

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”

Muharram, Hijrah and seeking refuge

With the upcoming celebration of Awal Muharram, it is important that we recall this event in a historic situation.

As a Muslim, we were told that the Hijra – the move from Mecca to Medina, was one that was ordained by God Himself in order to avoid religious persecution.

Religion teaches us that this was not the first exodus in the Abrahamic faith, as a similar fate took place between Moses and his people being expelled from Egypt by the Pharaoh.

Though to be frank, Muhammad did not have to wander the desert but started his community in Medina and united tribes, wrote a constitution and expanded the teachings of Islam from this city which became the first Islamic establishment.

If we were to relate that in current standing, Muhammad literally immigrated to a nation, set up a legal code and even became the chosen leader of the city state by allowing all to practise their faiths while also combining mosque and state into one central organisation.

He was also an illiterate migrant with no wealth of his own, and instead married into wealth. All he had was his reputation as an honest man and a hard worker who survived abuse for a different faith in his own homeland simply by the recognition of his uncle as a renowned trader.

And here was Medina, willing to accept him and his followers with open arms without a concern over their wealth, their faith, their education level, or even their culture brought about from a central city like Mecca. And obviously, nobody in Medina at that time feared they would lose their jobs, I personally hope.

The move of our Prophet from Mecca to Medina to avoid religious persecution, and he open acceptance of the people of Medina to accept him and his followers, are an important one to carry forward today, especially for the Muslim community. It is clear justification that we ourselves must practice the act of open borders when it comes to those fleeing violence and offer them a home.

It is a concept we have practised ourselves in the case of Bosnia, Syria, and hopefully we will extend it to those being persecuted in Myanmar.

But that being said, we should not limit it to just our brothers in religion, but extend it beyond that to the concept of a brotherhood of humankind. It would be shameful to expect us to only take in those who we deem worthy or unworthy, whereas even Christian majority nations have no such clause.

History tells us that migration is an integral part of nations when people are seeking better economic conditions and avoiding persecution.

You can take Muhammad moving to Medina, the Potato Famine causing an influx of Irish immigrants to America, or even the nations protecting fleeing Jews from the Nazis.

And quite honestly, we need humanity to step in before we put faith in God and miracles – and this is something that even our nation and people can do.

We must put stock that Malaysians, just like other people in developed nations, believe in caring for others and not just themselves. As much as we bicker internally over race, beliefs, politics and even class, there is no justification against saving a people – mainly women and children – facing genocidal slaughter in their own land.

We are not a nation of actuarial scientists that probe the cost of life and whether such an amount economically justifies letting people through our borders to avoid dying. Instead, what we must consider is how to make sure that those who do take refuge in our country can live their lives just as well as our own citizens.

We are not a rich nation per se, but I’ll be damned if we can’t even secure people from hunger, thirst, maiming, death from a bullet or even a machete. Personally, I wish we had done this sooner when Cambodia had their killing fields, Vietnam had their war and Indonesia started their communist purge or sectarian violence.

However, we must do this with proper policies and planning, to ensure that we make it a settled issue for times to come as well as to avoid bias in the future. To that end, I urge the politicians to start by coming up with a proper framework on the treatment of refugees and those seeking asylum.

Secondly, recognise the status of refugees and asylum seekers to allow them to seek a living here. And thirdly, in the long run, resolve all issues involving permanent residency and statelessness among our own Malaysians before subsequently looking for the same solution for refugees in Malaysia.

We may not be the richest nation, or the most peaceful, or the happiest, or even the ones with the greatest track record in ending corruption for that matter. But I do hope we can agree that we should at least be a humanitarian one that can support the right to live.

How will the “hudud bill” play out?

For those not in the know, there is a private members bill called RUU 355 currently brought up by the Islamic conservative party (PAS) in Malaysia’s parliament.

It raises the stature of the Sharia Court to be on the same level as the Malaysian civil courts with regards to the level of punishment it is able to dole out. 100 lashes, RM500,000 fine, and also 30 years in jail.

This bill, raised by PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, has now been deferred from being debated to the next parliamentary session in March 2017.

The bill has faced brickbats from both government and opposition lawmakers – in particular, the non-Muslim lawmakers whereas Muslim lawmakers have hedged themselves into being non-committal on direct answer to the point that Schrödinger would be proud.

Continue reading “How will the “hudud bill” play out?”

Brain fart: Ugh, Malaysians *rolls eyes and sigh*

You have to ask yourselves whether the next generation will be up to scratch.

It is a changed world, with paedophiles grouping together and sharing kiddie porn on Telegram, while kids begin to get into awkward situations that borders being born with a lack of self preservation.

In the last few months, Malaysian kids have found themselves incapable of even using escalators – something the general population has been using for the past four decades and more. Continue reading “Brain fart: Ugh, Malaysians *rolls eyes and sigh*”

Brain fart: On Orlando

I’m starting a new series of articles called “Brain farts”. They are raw, unedited, unscripted writings on current topics.

The mass murder of over 50 Americans in a gay bar located in Orlando is shocking, and should be condemned by the highest level. The actions of the alleged shooter, Omar Mateen, calling 911 and declaring his actions in the name of the Islamic State, makes it an act of terrorism. Of course, it is also an act of homophobia as well.

Can homosexuals be homophobic? Of course they can. Continue reading “Brain fart: On Orlando”