Customs Dept ordered not to proceed with liquor licences

KUALA LUMPUR: The Finance Ministry has directed the Customs Department not to proceed with the enforcement of licensing on the sale of alcohol in restaurants and coffee shops.

According to a circular dated Dec 9, the ministry ordered the enforcement of liquor licensing to be discontinued.

“Through a letter dated Dec 8, the Finance Ministry has decided that the enforcement of licensing on the sale of intoxicating liquor served in restaurants and coffee shops need not be continued.

“So matters presented during a briefing previously will be cancelled,” said Customs assistant director-general Samson Sevanjanam.

Samson was referring to the briefing session in November in which restaurants and coffee shop owners in certain states were told to apply for liquor licenses, which triggered an uproar.

The circular by the Customs Department was addressed to the Kuala Lumpur City Council (DBKL) Mayor, the DBKL Excise Licensing Board chairman, the Business Development and Licensing Department director, the Shah Alam Town Council Mayor, the Subang Jaya Town Council Mayor and various other coffee shops.

In an Instagram post, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong said both him and Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz did not contradict each other over the liquor licensing issue.

“If you read the content carefully, you will find that both our statements are consistent and not contradictory,” he said.

Dr Wee also pointed out what he said on Tuesday was that in 1977, the Finance Ministry had authorised the mentris besar and chief ministers to handle the matter through the Licensing Board under the respective local governments.

“This policy has not been changed which I had stated in the previous statement,” he said.

Dr Wee also maintained that the Finance Ministry decided to cancel the circular issued by the Customs Department in April, which had requested restaurants and coffee shops to apply for liquor licences before Dec 31 this year.

There was a minor confusion when Tengku Zafrul denied that the government had revoked the proposal to introduce liquor licences in restaurants and coffee shops selling alcohol.

Tengku Zafrul told the Dewan Rakyat that the power to issue liquor licences or exempt premises from selling alcohol falls under the purview of the state government and Putrajaya has no plans to change any measures for now.

He was responding to Damansara MP Tony Pua, who earlier asked him the rationale for the Customs Department’s recent regulation requiring coffee shops and restaurants to apply for liquor licences to sell alcohol in the premises.

In Dr Wee’s statement on Tuesday, the MCA president also said the Customs Department is part of the state licensing board and that it has no power to instruct restaurants and coffee shops to apply for liquor licences.

"Therefore, the Finance Ministry has cancelled the circular issued on April 7, which requested business owners to apply for liquor licences from the Customs Department before Dec 31."

Recently, the Customs Department announced that coffee shops and restaurants nationwide must apply for liquor licences starting from next year.

The directive was met with criticism, as it would increase the financial burden on coffee shop and restaurant operators that were badly impacted following the Covid-19 pandemic.

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