ON March 18, the same day Malaysia announced the first phase of its Movement Control Order (MCO) as a measure to contain the Covid 19 pandemic, the Hofbrauhaus tavern and brewery in Munich announced that it would close its doors for the first time after 120 years of uninterrupted daily service.

This announcement came with an admission of uncertainty over when the world-famous Hofbrauhaus would recommence its operations, a tone similar to millions of small and medium enterprises in two thirds of the world’s nations which are now affected by Covid 19.

The closure of breweries across Germany, where beer is the undisputed national drink, also stamps a blockade on the country’s most celebrated social and cultural activities – beer guzzling. But no complaints heard so far. Germans have put up with whatever remaining stocks in pre-lockdown barrels.

Similarly, there had been no concerns whatsoever over the shortage of beer in Malaysia during the first 21 days of the MCO, unlike the furore over the shortage of bread, vegetables and other food items, while farmers continue to raise the alarm over much of their produce going to waste due to transportation and supply chain issues.

Thus the Perikatan Nasional government’s leaked letters to the Heineken and Carlsberg breweries, approving their recommencement of operations, dated April 4, came as a shocker to the vast majority of this nation that has Islam as its federal religion and now governed by a so-called Malay Muslim coalition.

The hypocrisy of it all was evident, seeing that the coalition also includes the far right Muslim party PAS and Malay nationalist UMNO, whose online bandwagon had for the 22 months of Pakatan Harapan rule harped on the purported discrimination towards Islam and Malays and the continued prevalence of “haram” commercial activities such as breweries, which should have been shut down for good.

For the record, all manufacturing categorised as non-essential had been shut down from March 18, while Heineken Malaysia only announced their temporary shutdown on March 25.

Thus, letters signed by Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs chief secretary Hasnol Zam Zam Ahmad became and instant hit among netizens on social media since they first appeared yesterday, with absolutely no response from PAS, who as the party claiming to uphold Islam, were expected to at least question the decision.

The letter to Heineken Brewery was confirmed as genuine by the ministry itself yesterday (April 5)
After the letter to Heineken appeared, Carlsberg were not to be left out.

Analysts from the opposition bloc immediately lambasted the government over double standards, with former NST group editor in-chief A. Kadir Jasin, the media advisor to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, winked in the direction of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Alexander Nanta Linggi and Heineken Malaysia chairman Idris Jala both happened to be non-Muslims from Sarawak.

“The Perikatan Nasional Government is purported to be a Malay-Muslim government, but are its policies and practices Islamic?” questioned Kadir, who is also Bersatu supreme council member, in a Facebook posting.

“The special envoy with minister’s status (PAS president Hadi Awang) had stated this was a government that entered through perforation of the roof or by digging a hole in the attap,” said Kadir, in a line that followed a quote by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in his admission that this wasn’t a government elected by the people.

“Thus the decision to allow breweries to resume operations is a big issue for this non-elected government. The taxes on alcoholic beverages are high and this government with its high composition of ministers, deputy ministers and special envoy with minister’s status, would require large sums in tax revenue, especially at this time when petroleum prices have plummeted,” said Kadir.

This echoed a statement made by Bersatu Youth (ARMADA) communications chief Abu Hafiz Salleh Hudin yesterday, which questioned whether the government’s decision was influened by “certain individuals”, while he also questioned the relevance of such policies being upheld by a government that was built on the narratives of rescuing Islam and the Malays.

ARMADA’s press statement.

And then the u-turn!

Malaysiakini reported Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa “confirming” that the approval for breweries to resume operations had been revoked, obviously without leaving out the political chicanery of the revocation being due to noises made by Umno, PAS and Bersatu, although evidently the noises made by the rakyat seemed by far louder.

FMT’s report states the breweries, falling under non-essentials, required the approval of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), which they had not obtained.

At 2pm today, senior minister (defence) Ismail Sabri Yaakob confirmed it by putting the final nail in the coffin of Malaysia’s shortlived status as a beer-guzzling nation, by announcing that the approvals had been revoked immediately.

Seems like Islam is safeguarded again after all, after Malaysia’s 48 hour reign in surpassing Germany as a beer nation.

Or should we see it as yet another foul-up by this government?