Ban on cigarettes during MCO strengthened black market: Survey

KUALA LUMPUR, May 6, 2020 — A blanket cigarettes sale ban during the Movement control order (MCO) gave the black market for tobacco a boost.

This is what a public opinion poll shows. It says a majority of Malaysians believe the cigarettes sale ban was negative.

The latest Asia Pacific survey saw over 1000 adults responding in Malaysia. It was commissioned by the advocacy group, the Consumer Choice Center (CCC).

The leading independent polling company, Populus was responsible for the fieldwork. It found that:

  • Eight out of ten Malaysian adults (80%) agrees that people would defy a ban on tobacco sale during a lockdown. They would go to great length to get the products.
  • Almost three-quarters of all respondents (72%, and 78% of smokers) agrees that people would continue to purchase tobacco products, but that sales would shift to black/illegal markets.
  • Unsurprisingly, most Malaysians (58%) thought a restriction would encourage people to quit.
  • 71% agrees that prohibition could increase the spread of coronavirus. They say the illegal sale of products that do not meet safety standards in distribution is risky.
  • the spread of Coronavirus through the sale of illegal products that do not meet safety standards in distribution.

Fred Roeder, Managing Director of the Consumer Choice Center says, “Our research clearly shows that people will still smoke and will likely go to great lengths to find alternative supply whenever theirs runs dry.

“Under restrictive MCO measures, encouraging unnecessary movement put lives at risk by increasing the chances of contracting and transmitting Covid-19.”

Roeder says the MCO caused a disruption in the distribution of legal cigarettes.

This resulted in an explosion of illicit cigarette trade, as highlighted by the relevant authorities in recent news reports.”

The vast majority of respondents (72%) say the ban on the sale of tobacco diverts vital resources from combatting Covid-19. They cite the increase in enforcement cost and time.

“Malaysian enforcement authorities have recently expended plenty of resources to counter illicit trade. There were roadblocks and thorough checks on food couriers and e-hailing service providers.

Nevertheless, this was the cause of unnecessary delays in an already difficult situation,” explains Roeder.

“While the initiative to encourage people to stop smoking during MCO is well-intentioned, it was a failure. Instead, this move has enriched transnational criminal syndicates and corrupt facilitators while reinforcing the endemic presence of illegal cigarettes in Malaysia,” he says.

“As Malaysia enters the phase of conditional MCO, the resumption of normal sales by legitimate players may not be enough to break the stranglehold on the market that illicit traders have gained over the last one-and-a-half months.”

He says there is a need for more effort, be it through bold policies and stricter enforcement to control this scourge effectively.

CCC conducted the survey in five countries in the Asia Pacific region including Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and South Korea.


Saudi Arabia suspends Umrah for domestic pilgrims

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Saudi Arabia says Wednesday it is suspending all Umrah pilgrimages as it reports its second case of the coronavirus.

This means the year-round Umrah pilgrimage to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah are not suspended.

The ban, imposed on foreigners from a list of countries, now applies to Saudi nationals and expatriates, the Interior Ministry said.

Foreign nationals and expats who are abroad are also under the ban.

The Kingdom imposed a ban last week on overseas pilgrims visiting the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. 

After the discovery of the second infection in Saudi Arabia, the authorities say it not “suspend umrah temporarily for citizens and residents in the kingdom”.

INFECTION FROM IRAN

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Iran is the epicentre of the outbreak of the virus in the Middle East.

The second person infected crossed the causeway from Bahrain without disclosing that he had visited Iran,

Saudi authorities quarantined 70 people who came in contact with the patient. It says 51 of them tested negative for the virus.

A 16-year-old student of an Indian school in Dubai has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Two dozen members of the Iranian Parliament are also infected.

At least 15 other current or former top figures are also infected, according to official reports.

Among them are a vice president, a deputy health minister, and an adviser to the head of the judiciary.

The virus has also killed an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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Netflix ‘producers’ firebombed for gay Jesus movie

On Dec. 24, a group attacked the headquarters of a YouTube creator group in Rio with firebombs.

The attack was in response to what people have called a crime against Jesus and the Catholic faith.

Reports say one man suspected of having been part of the attack has fled to Russia.

Brazilian authorities have issued a request for the international police organization Interpol to help apprehend him.

But Brazil has also banned the movie which was streaming on Netflix.

Washington Post reports the Netflix satire portraying Jesus as gay provoked more people than expected.

Politicians and preachers say the Brazilian film an act of blasphemy and millions of people signed petitions against it.

They also want the producers, the Porta dos Fundos group, to be charged for criminality.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/01/09/brazil-comedy-group-firebombed-gay-jesus-judge-rules-netflix-remove-movie/

In a ruling against Netflix, the state court judge said: “The right to freedom of expression … is not absolute.”

A religious organization Associaçao Centro Dom Bosco de Fe e Cultura filed a lawsuit against

The First Temptation of Christ, is created by the Brazilian YouTube comedy group and portrays Jesus bringing home a presumed boyfriend to meet his family.

To many people, the show is going too far, Netflix is making bad decisions and the creators are criminals.

Reuters says two million people petitioned Netflix to remove the show from its online streaming service.

Brazil is home to the world’s largest Catholic population.

The right-wing government headed by President Jair Bolsonaro has the support of the Catholic groups but also of the evangelical Christian community.

Bolsonaro once said he would rather have a dead son than a gay son and this sparked outrage among ‘gay’ rights activists.

His son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, has called the Porta dos Fundos’ show “garbage.”


Muslim, Jewish outrage against Swedish call for ban of circumcision

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A Swedish party voted for a ban of circumcision of boys in the absence of a medical reason, sparking an outcry and outrage among Muslims and Jews

And the leader of Sweden’s Centre Party Annie Lööf said she “regrets” the party vote taken during the party’s annual meeting.

This means, if the proposal becomes reality, that it will be completely impossible to live as a Jew or a Muslim in Sweden.”

Aron Verständig, chairperson of The Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities

But the party did not vote in favour of the removal of restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men but accepted a resolution to recognise a third gender.

The decision on circumcision, taken by party commissioners, went against the official party line.

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The Centre Party is not in government, but is part of a four-party deal, along with the Liberal Party, which allows the centre-left Social Democrats and Green Party to govern.

Despite the 314 to 166 votes against circumcision, the party’s final decision was that it should work to ban all non-medical circumcisions of boys and not support a total ban on circumcision.

Such a ban would amount to a narrowing of religious freedom in the country.

Mohamed Temsamani, president of the United Islamic Associations in Sweden and a former politician

Confusing? They vote to ban what Muslims and Jews cherish and believes is a ‘healthy’ issue but the party end up not supporting the vote! Democracy?

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Following the meeting, party vice-chairman Anders W Jonsson told the media and as reported by The Local, “This was not a decision that the party leadership wanted.”

He said that those who called for a ban on circumcision were focused on child rights and the debate had not been related to religion.

“This isn’t something we plan to write a motion on,” said Lööf on Sunday.

The good news for the Muslims and the Jews is no other party would support such a policy or any other kind of ban or restriction, although the Green Party described male circumcision as “problematic”.

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In anti-EU drive, Malaysia hopes China would become its biggest palm oil trade partner

Malaysia is making a lot of noise on the palm oil ban by the European Union (EU) to the point that it is now hoping that China – already a major trading partner to Malaysia – would surpass the Europeans in the disputed oil imports.

Malaysian Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Mah Siew Keong said Friday that he expects China to become Malaysia’s largest commodity importer in two years, underpinned by more collaboration between the two countries in the commodity sector.

According to the minister, the exports of Malaysia’s palm oil and palm-based products to China from January to November 2017 rose 9.8 percent year-on-year to 8.52 billion ringgit (2.19 billion U.S. dollars). Based on the exports value, China has overtaken India to become the second largest buyer for Malaysian palm oil and palm-based products after the European Union (EU).

“We look forward to working closely with China to further collaboration and growth in the commodity sector. I am optimistic that our exports to China will continue to grow due to the positive ties between the two countries,” Mah told a press conference held in conjunction with a visit by Chinese Ambassador Bai Tian.

 

Last week, Mah said Malaysia should ban butter from the European Union (EU), in a tit-for-tat response to the EU’s ban on palm oil used in biodiesel.

In January, he said Malaysia would go tit-for-tat against the EU, thinking of plans on how to boycott EU products entering Malaysia as a means to bend the Europeans from implementing their ban of palm oil products in biodiesel.

On the 17th January, 429 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) voted for the resolution to ban palm biodiesel from the EU energy mix after 2020. 

The final ruling on the EU Renewable Energy Directive II will be made in a tripartite meeting along with the Council of the EU and the European Commission in mid-February 2018.

During Chinese New Year, Mah will lead a palm oil delegation to the EU. “We will meet with ministers and commissioners from at least five countries on this EU resolution.

“Trade discrimination against palm will not be tolerated. The EU Parliament’s vote to ban palm oil biodiesel will harm European trade and cooperation in Malaysia, and southeast Asia,” Mah said.


Malaysia Minister calls for ban of butter products from EU

Malaysian Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong today said Malaysia should ban butter from the European Union (EU), in a tit-for-tat response for the EU’s ban of palm oil used in biodiesel.

The EU ban on palm oil for biodiesel input has enraged Malaysia…

The minister also said the EU should also ban butter production and its exports to third countries.

The EU-28 is the largest exporter of butter and butter oil, exporting 204 310t in 2016 and 163 579t in 2017 (Jan-Nov 2017 compared to Jan-Nov 2016).

The malaysian minister said the EU should actually ban the production and exports of butter since this commodity’s carbon footprint is 10 times more polluting than that of palm oil.

“If the EU wants to justify the palm oil ban on the basis of carbon footprint, it should ban butter which is 10 times more polluting to the environment,” said Mah.

However, Malaysia is also a major exporter of butter and butter oils. It occupies the number 10th place among the top exporters of the now contested product, with an exportation figure of 5 129t of butter and butter oils in 2016 and 5 948t in 2017 (Jan-Nov 2017 compared to Jan-Nov 2016).

Malaysia benefited more from the export of the products compared to the Europeans, which saw a significant decline in their export transactions as shown above.

The Malaysian export of the buttery products saw a 16% increase up to September last year, while the EU-28 exports of the product saw a fall of -20%.

Malaysia does not appear in the top ten of butter and butter oils importers, globally, which indicates that a Malaysian ban of EU butter products will not be significant and might not influence the debate on the EU ban of palm oil products for biodiesel.

Mah Siew Keong explained one tonne of butter production emits 23.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide, but cultivation of oil palm to produce one tonne of palm oil only emits 2.3 tonne of carbon dioxide. 

“As you can see, the production of butter is 10 times more polluting than palm oil. Using their logic, we should ban butter from EU, and EU should also ban butter production and its exports,” he said.

Mah was responding to the EU Parliament’s recent vote to ban palm oil alleging the production of this commodity results in high carbon footprint.

On the 17th January, 429 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) voted for the resolution to ban palm biodiesel from the EU energy mix after 2020. 

The final ruling on the EU Renewable Energy Directive II will be made in a tripartite meeting along with the Council of the EU and the European Commission in mid-February 2018.

During Chinese New Year, Mah will lead a palm oil delegation to the EU. “We will meet with ministers and commissioners from at least five countries on this EU resolution.

“Trade discrimination against palm will not be tolerated. The EU Parliament’s vote to ban palm oil biodiesel will harm European trade and cooperation in Malaysia, and southeast Asia,” Mah said.


Public urged to be cautious with ICO, advised to refer to licensed agencies

The Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) and Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) have advised the public to be wary of any initial coin offering (ICO) schemes, reminding them to exercise caution before participating in such schemes.

“The public are reminded to exercise caution before participating in any ICO schemes by checking their names against the list of institutions that are licensed under the laws administered by regulators,” the two institutions said in a media statement today.

The central bank said issuers should also be mindful that the launch of an ICO, the offering of digital tokens in exchange for digital currency or any form of payment and incidental activities thereof, might trigger regulatory requirements under securities laws.

Carrying on such activities without proper authorisation is an offence it said.

“No person is permitted to carry out any regulated activities such as fundraising, fund management and dealing in capital market products without obtaining necessary approval or authorisation from the SC.”

The SC and BNM said they wish to draw the public’s attention to ICO schemes which may involve activities that are subject to laws administered by the SC and BNM.

Further, ICO operators are prohibited from undertaking regulated activities such as deposit taking and banking business, foreign exchange administration activities and remittances, without the necessary authorisation under financial services laws administered by BNM.

Members of the public are advised to refer to the list of institutions that are licensed or approved to carry out regulated activities under the laws administered by the SC and BNM.

“Both authorities will continue to monitor these developments, and will not hesitate to take action against any person conducting illegal or unauthorised activities,” the statement said.