Putrajaya to revoke beer company’s MCO exemption as minister not informed

Heineken had been given permission to remain open throughout the movement control period.

PETALING JAYA: Putrajaya is set to revoke its controversial approval exempting alcohol beverage manufacturer Heineken from suspending its operations under the movement control order (MCO).

FMT has learnt that the decision to allow the beer factory to remain open was “premature”, with a source saying the secretary-general of the domestic trade and consumer affairs had issued the letter without the approval of his minister or the international trade and industry ministry (Miti).

FMT has contacted Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Alexander Nanta Linggi but has yet to receive a response.

It is understood that the minister was also absent from a Cabinet meeting this morning.

The letter to Heineken dated March 31 approving “limited operations” was signed by domestic trade and consumer affairs secretary-general Hasnol Zam Zam Ahmad, who said the brewery had met the criteria of a food supplier and could remain in operation during the MCO period.

FMT has also learnt that at least one other major brewery was given similar exemption.

Heineken said 10% of its total workforce was essential staff and would be involved in its operations during the MCO period.

“We have an obligation to ensure continuous supply of our products, maintain the employment of our people and to contribute positively to the economic recovery of our nation,” it had said.

It is understood that Heineken’s exemption must also receive the approval of Miti, headed by Mohamed Azmin Ali, one of four senior ministers in the Cabinet.

“Technically, Heineken comes under the food and beverages category, but as it is not one of the essential services exempted from the current containment measures, it needs approval from Miti,” said a source.

The move to exempt Heineken was criticised by PAS, one of the partners in the current Perikatan Nasional coalition government.

“PAS respects the rights of non-Muslims to consume alcohol, as has been the policy in Kelantan and Terengganu, but this is not a necessity as we face a critical situation fighting the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.

Yesterday, a PPBM Youth leader also questioned the move, saying thousands of halal businesses as well as small and medium-sized enterprises had been asked to remain closed during the MCO.

“Why was special exemption given to the Heineken factory?” asked Abu Hafiz Salleh Hudin, who heads PPBM Youth’s religious bureau.

Under the MCO announced last month, all offices and businesses were closed to contain the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus.

Exemptions were given to essential services including water and electricity, telecommunications, transport, banking and food supply.