Country loses RM1.5b every year due to illicit, smuggled beers

Shagivarnam (right) showing Chong (second left) and Austin (left) samples of some illicit beers.

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By Nigel Edgar

KUCHING, March 23: It is estimated that Malaysia loses roughly RM1.5 billion in excise duty from illicit and smuggled beer annually.

Heineken Malaysia Bhd’s Corporate Affairs head Shagivarnam Ratnam said based on industry estimates, more than one million actual litres of illicit beer were consumed annually in the country.

“Based on estimates, one million actual litres is illicit beer. Taking into consideration the current excise duty loss in total is RM1.5 billion. This is industry estimates. This includes loss of import tax because 80 to 90 per cent of all beers are imported.

“So, one million actual litres times by RM8.75 per litre, you get RM875 million, plus more than RM500 million of import tax, the total is up RM1.5 billion. These are conservative numbers,” he told reporters after the launching ceremony of the state-level Illicit Beer Awareness Campaign today.

Shagivarnam said a detailed survey had not been done for Sarawak and Sabah, but the industry estimated that out of the seven million population in both Sarawak and Sabah, about half or three million are beer drinkers.

Chong (centre) revealing the banner of the Illicit Beer Awareness Campaign.

Meanwhile, state Customs Department senior assistant director (Enforcement) Austin James said the demand for illicit beer in Sarawak and Sabah was high because of its cheap price.

He said although the Customs Department had been doing enforcement regularly, it was challenging due to the geographical terrains of Sarawak and Sabah, which have long borders.

“When you talk about smuggling, look at Sabah and Sarawak geographically. It (borders) is very wide and smuggling can come in at any point along these borders through unseen points, like in Bintulu and Sarikei, on rivers and even at night.

“So, it is very important we need support from the public to come to us and forward to us,” he said.

Deputy Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Chong Chieng Jen, who officiated at the event, said there is a serious health risk when consuming illicit beers, just like what happened in the peninsula last year where 49 people died after consuming illicit beer due to alcohol poisoning.

He said although there had been no formal records of death due to alcohol poisoning in Sarawak of late, it could still pose a health risk in the long run.

“Consumption of illicit beer or alcohol can cause immediate death, which we have the statistics to show. It could also be a long-term thing that affects your liver. At the end of the day, you may have liver problems and pass away.

“But there are no statistics (for Sarawak) that this is because of beer. But the damage to the liver due to constant consumption of beer laced with ethyl alcohol may happen in the long run,” Chong warned.

He encouraged beer drinkers to only drink legitimate alcoholic beverages, which, at the same time, contributes to the revenue of the country through the tax and excise duties.

If it is too pricey, he suggested beer drinkers lower their consumption instead of looking for cheaper alternatives by means of illicit beers. — DayakDaily