The government is pressuring the makers of Timah whiskey to change the name of its product just as its licence is due for renewal, claimed Seputeh MP Teresa Kok.
She said while Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Alexander Nanta Linggi had told the public that manufacturer Winepak Sdn Bhd has agreed to change the name; in actuality, it was unwillingly acquiescing to government demands.
According to her, the government wants the name changed from Timah (meaning tin in the Malay language) to Bijih Timah (tin ore).
“I was made to understand that they are not willing to change the name,” she told Malaysiakini yesterday when contacted for details about her speech in Parliament earlier.
Moreover, a name change could affect the whiskey’s brand value and reputation, which is why Winepak was reluctant to make the change.
Malaysiakini has contacted Winepak for comment but has yet to receive a reply.
Kok had raised the Timah controversy during the Budget 2022 debate at the Dewan Rakyat earlier today, where she expressed regret over the purported name change.
“I regret how the government is making things difficult for the Malaysian-made Timah whiskey that previously won the Silver Award at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition 2020.
“I have been made to understand after the Timah issue was made a controversy by certain quarters, the government has pressured the whiskey maker to change the name to Bijih Timah.
“The problem is, Timah is the product’s brand name or trade name. It is the name that won an international competition. The name of a product cannot simply be changed,” she said in her parliamentary speech, without revealing the source of the information.
Licence renewal yet to be approved
She also claimed that the manufacturing licence to produce the Timah whiskey had expired late last month, but the government has not approved its renewal to date.
“Is this fair? We know ‘Timah’ is not the name of a Muslim and in fact refers to a type of metal in the Malay language. How can it become such an issue that the government has to pressure the company to change the name of its product?” she said.
She also noted there are at least 20 alcoholic beverage brands that have Muslim-sounding names and questioned whether the government is going to block its importation into Malaysia.
“Does this not contradict the spirit and principles of the ‘Malaysian Family’ slogan trumpeted by the government today?
“If the government is insistent on pressuring and not renewing the Timah whiskey licence, this is unfair and will damage relations between the government and the private sector,” said the former minister, adding that it would also undo the government’s efforts to attract foreign investment.
“Foreign investors will be wondering when will the government rescind their business or manufacturing licence and ask them to change the name of their products for absurd reasons.”
Previously, conservative groups had claimed that the Timah whiskey is “insulting Islam”.
This narrative included claims that the name “Timah” refers to Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah and that the image on the bottle portrayed a Muslim man with a beard wearing a skullcap.
Winepak had said the man on the bottle was Captain Tristram Speedy, who was appointed as a colonial administrator to restore order during the Larut wars – a conflict for control over tin mining areas in Perak from 1861 to 1874.
“The man on our bottle, Captain Speedy, was one of the men who introduced whiskey culture back then,” it said.
The company also explained that the name Timah simply refers to tin, and any other interpretation is false. – Malaysiakini