Gov’t agencies discuss imposing levy on sugary food, drinks

National 2 minutes, 3 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

THE Ministry of Health is in discussion with the Royal Customs and Excise Department and the Ministry of Finance on the possibility of imposing a levy on sugary products in Brunei.

Minister of Health Yang Berhormat Dato Paduka Dr Hj Zulkarnain Hj Hanafi said this does not mean reducing or eliminating the subsidy of sugar, but to perhaps tax food products and beverages which contain high amounts of sugar or even fast food chains.

The minister was responding to Legislative Council (LegCo) Member Yang Berhormat Hj Awang Ahmad Morshidi Pehin Orang Kaya Digadong Seri Diraja Dato Laila Utama Hj Awang Abdul Rahman, who asked whether the subsidy of sugar will be removed altogether.

Speaking to The Brunei Times in an interview following the proceedings yesterday, the minister said sometimes legislation helps to change people’s lifestyles for the better.

Currently, the rate of obesity among young people in the country is high, with one-third of them being overweight, and 17 per cent of them obese.

YB Dato Dr Hj Zulkarnain cited an example of the United Kingdom’s recent budget plans announced on March 16. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne proposed to levy a tax on the volume of the sugar-sweetened drinks.

“They (UK) are trying to change the behaviour of people because what they found is that the rate of obesity among the young people was very high,” the minister said.

The minister said perhaps this is something for Brunei to consider too, not just in taxing soft drink importers but also importers of food products with high sugar content.

“Obviously, these importers will pass on the price down to the consumers. So when the price, for example, increases from $1 to $3 for a can of soft drink, consumers will think twice about buying it,” he said.

If the levy on sugary products is ever imposed, the ministry hopes the alternatives will result in people finding foods that are attractive which are healthy in nature.

YB Dato Dr Hj Zulkarnain clarified that the health ministry will not be the agency to impose this levy, but it is currently making suggestions for it to the relevant authorities.

“At the end of the day, they (relevant authorities) will impose the tax if they feel it is necessary to do so,” the minister said, adding it is not about wanting to get money out of these taxes, but about trying to promote a behaviour that will support a healthy lifestyle.

The Brunei Times