Tuesday, February 23, 2010

MBPJ, Selangor fight over strict rules for restaurants

The Petaling Jaya City Council’s (MBPJ) attempt to impose strict guidelines on eateries in its area of administration has been facing a strong opposition from the Selangor state government.

Under its 2008 Health Requirements and Prerequisites for Licensing of Food Premises approved last March, the MBPJ may revoke an eatery’s license if it is found to commit the same major offence three times within a year.

The law was supposed to come into effect this June but Selangor executive councillor for local government Ronnie Liu admitted to The Malaysian Insider to opposing the new guidelines saying that it is not fair for the business community.

However, several MBPJ councillors disputed his reasons, saying it was detrimental to their duty.

“An awareness campaign for the new guidelines was supposed to be launched in January, but it was opposed by the exco after intense lobbying by restaurant owners, they are not happy with the three-strikes rule,” an MBPJ councillor said on condition of anonymity for fear of backlash from the ruling Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition.

“We just want to punish repeat offenders, what is the point of issuing numerous compounds for the same reason but with no effect,” the councillor added.

The 24 members of the MBPJ are appointed by PR allies running the Selangor government, but the council is free to enact local by-laws, impose licensing guidelines and manage its own revenues.

The councillor said that the interference by members of the state administration shows lack of understanding of the independence of the local government.

“This is what happens when politicians don’t understand the rules,” he said.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the political interference has led to the refusal of the MBPJ enforcers to implement the new guidelines and act against errant restaurant owners.

“Some of the officers openly admitted they have two bosses, the council and the exco,” he added.

Meanwhile another MBPJ member said the council is adamant to ensure the new guidelines is implemented and said the matter is expected to be discussed at the upcoming council’s full board meeting this morning.

“At the council level, everyone is for it, we have spent more than a year working on it, we have even consulted coffee shop owners when drafting the guidelines,” said the councillor adding that the MBPJ enforcers will have to carry out the decision endorsed by the full board meeting.

“There shouldn’t be any problem for us to go ahead with it, overall the public in PJ is supporting it, and the councillors also believe in that,” he added.

In defending the government’s refusal to allow the three-strikes rule to be enforced Liu said the council is answerable to the state.

“They cannot simply make decision without the state government’s endorsement, the councillors are appointed by the exco, can the minister of transport act without the PM’s approval?” asked Liu.

“It is the same reason why local councils cannot ban the sale of beer in certain areas,” he added citing the incident last year when the Shah Alam City Council (MBSA) attempted to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages in Muslim majority areas.

He also admitted that groups representing restaurant and coffee shop owners in the city have met him to express their opposition to the new guidelines.

“I was told if it is enforced they are planning a nationwide protest against MBPJ,” said Liu without naming the groups he met.

“Some councillors are still adamant, but my advice is, no, because I cannot defend the decision,” he added.

The Pandamaran assemblyman also argued that the “three-strikes” rule is impractical and unfair.

“It is like, if you park your car wrongly, and issued summons three times, you lose your driving license, is it fair?” asked Liu.

The MBPJ’s jurisdiction covers an area of almost 100 kilometres square, situated just outside the Kuala Lumpur city centre.

The council is among the richest local government in the country with annual revenue based of around RM250 million, more than half that of the Penang state.

news courtesy of Malaysian Insider

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