Categorised | Columns

A Matter of Interpretation

As a councillor, I have come across some of the strangest interpretations of the law. This can be by council officers who are tasked with implementing the law, or by laypeople at the receiving end of the law. Along with their peculiar interpretations are mixed messages about whether the law works or not, or if it actually makes things worse.

There are no morals to the stories told here, except those that readers conclude for themselves.

Higher fines

“Your new fine encourages corruption!” cried a trader while brandishing a fine issued by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) at me.

The fine was for a trader-related offence. Previously, the fine was capped at RM250, but now it was RM1,000. The new fine structure was gazetted in a by-law before Pakatan Rakyat took over the Selangor state government, but was never implemented.

Many traders are unaware of the increased fine (© Lainie Yeoh)

The present MBPJ government adopted the fine structure, seeing how it was already a gazetted law that needed to be complied with. It was a move that certainly raised the ire of many traders who were slapped unawares with hefty dues.

I asked the trader to explain why the increased fine would breed corruption.

“Since the fine is so expensive, the officer could just tell traders that they won’t be fined if they pay the officer RM300,” was the reply.

“Ok, what’s the fine for?” I asked.

“This fine was for not having a license,” said the trader.

“Did you apply for the license?”

“No, but that’s not the point! MBPJ’s fines are too high!”

“The law states that you should be fined for not having a license, no?”

“Laws are created by humans,” retorted the trader. “We changed the BN government because they weren’t good, but we can change the PR government too. You need to reduce the fine amount because right now, when we appeal, we get half off the fine, which is still RM500. Previously, when we appealed, we only need to pay RM100. We are happy to pay RM100, not RM500. Your law encourages your officers to accept bribes.”

Thirty percent bigger

A trader had been waiting several months to get her trader’s license and could not understand why her application for a license took so long. She requested my help to speed up the process. As the trader was rather lost because of the conflicting instructions she received, I brought her to the council’s licensing department to sort things out.

“We can’t approve the license for this because the stall’s name is in English,” said the council officer after looking through the application.

“What? Where did this rule come from?” I asked.

The officer explained that the rule was adopted by the MBPJ a few months back. Not convinced, I asked to see the ruling.

The officer left and returned moments later with a senior officer who carried a huge book. The senior officer greeted me and explained that the licensing department wasn’t trying to be difficult but was only following the requirements of the Advertisement (Petaling Jaya City Council) By-Laws 2007.

“The by-law states all signage must carry Malay words and if there is any other language used, the Malay language must be 30% bigger,” the officer explained while showing me the relevant section.

While I went through this section of the law, the officer tried to help by suggesting a Malay name for the stall.

“So, what happens when KFC or McDonalds apply for a license?” I asked.

“They have to comply with the ruling too. We received many complaints from them about this, but what can we do? We are just following the law,” the officer replied.

After scrutinising the by-law carefully, MBPJ councillor KW Mak found an additional clause that exempts registered company names from the Malay wording requirement. Had the signage ruling been true to the officer’s interpretation, he would have insisted that The Nut Graph logo carry Malay words too and be translated as Graf Kacang.

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One Response to “A Matter of Interpretation”

  1. Geralg says:

    This is a common problem. I had a problem renewing my restaurant licence for 2011, the problem that the extractor hood did not go up all the way to the roof. I am based in a commercial complex with five storeys. I’m on the ground floor.

    I went to see the licensing department to explain that upon submitting my application for a licence with all the necessary photos I was not informed of this, and it was not stated in the necessary requirements in the application booklet. The answer: “That has got nothing to do with me, that time they do, they do la. Now you must comply.” I asked why the different departments in MBPJ did not sit down and sort out their requirements properly so that business owners have a clear understanding and can get whatever needs to be done properly during the renovation stage. The response: “What other departments do is up to them, got nothing to do with us, we come and check, not complied we issue summons and suspend the licence.”

    After doing the necessary to extend my extractor hood, I called the inspector to come and verify and take the necessary pictures. It took her two weeks to come! Her excuse? Very busy. But when I was at their office on the 6th floor that day, they were all sitting around talking and laughing and making social plans.

    I can only say [...] things will never change unless the old hats are taken out and new one are put in.


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