NO MORE SWEET DEALS FOR SUGAR-HUNTING S'PORE SHOPPERS
Tor Ching Li
FIRST, it was about foreign cars guzzling Malaysian petrol. Now, Malaysia
is feeling sour about foreign purchases of its sugar.
According to a report in The Star yesterday, Malaysian Customs officers
have been confiscating packets of sugar off bargain-hunting Singaporeans
at the Causeway checkpoint.
Like petrol, sugar is a price-controlled item in Malaysia and costs RM1.40
($0.61) per kilo - considerably cheaper than in Singapore, where it would
cost between $1.05 and $1.60 for the same amount of the sweetener.
While no fines are currently being imposed on foreigners attempting to
take sugar across the Causeway from Malaysia, there will be a fine of
RM100 per kilo from next Friday onwards.
For now, all packets of sugar bought by foreign consumers will be seized
at the Causeway.
Customs director-general Abdul Rahman Abdul Hamid announced this ruling
However, many Singaporeans were caught unawares as there have been no
signs put up along the Causeway or at Malaysian shopping centres regarding
the new ban.
Johor Baru MP Shahrir Samad told Today: "Communication of this new rule
has not been very effective. The Customs department and relevant
ministries must make the effort to inform people, especially in Johor
Baru, about this rule by having signs at the checkpoint and retail
State Customs director Sarmin Hussin told The Star that signs informing
motorists of the ban would be in place ahead of April 21.
Speaking about the reasons behind the ban, Malaysian political analyst
James Wong said: "While this is supposedly part of an effort to deter
sugar smuggling, it could signal some displeasure with Singapore.
"And I feel some officers are being overzealous in enforcing the law."
Some reasons for tit-for-tat tensions include recent reports in the
Singapore media on crime across the Causeway and the Singapore
Government's refusal to recognise the MyKad as an entry document for
frequent travellers, said Mr Wong.
Malaysian Retailers' Association honorary secretary Chow Chee Ming told
Today a blanket ban on sugar purchases was "unreasonable".
He said: "This new rule is not very business-friendly. There should be
some flexibility to allow for personal consumption, while deterring
commercial trading of cheap sugar."
Mr Shahrir agreed: "The focus should be clamping down on smugglers, not on
people who buy sugar for personal consumption."
However, Mr Chow hopes that the new ruling can eventually be taken with a
pinch of salt.
"Previously there was a limit on the amount of cooking oil, flour,
condensed milk and sugar each person could bring into Singapore, but this
was gradually enforced less strictly," he said.
This law restricts the amount of price-controlled goods - such as sugar,
flour, cooking oil and condensed milk - that can be exported, to 2kg per
Nevertheless, sugar sales have recently come under scrutiny by the
Malaysian government, which is now on the lookout for sugar hoarders and
smugglers across the Thai and Indonesian borders.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the
government was stepping up enforcement against those hoarding sugar and
raising the price of the controlled item.
Mr Idris Johari, assistant manager of Central Sugar Refinery in Shah Alam,
told Today that Malaysia was not suffering from any sugar shortage.
"I think there is no reason to stop consumers from buying a few kilograms
of sugar home," he said, noting that the price of sugar in Malaysia was
almost half that in Thailand or Indonesia.
Mr Charles Wee, a Singaporean who goes to Johor Baru weekly to shop, said
that a sugar ban would not deter him from his trips - though a fuel tax
and entry levy would.
"If I have to pay RM20 to go into Johor Baru, I must as well shop
locally - it'll work out cheaper," he said.