Categorised | Columns

Sabotaging public interest

THE local council often faces objections and sometimes outright hostility from the people when it needs to enforce the law. Protests by interested parties against enforcement measures, like the removal of illegal barricades, are the norm.

In this exciting episode of Ampersand, I shall cover other issues that also face protests from interested parties.

Three strikes

(Pic by drexl /
The Petaling Jaya City Council, otherwise known by its Malay acronym MBPJ, has been attempting to implement a three-strike rule against restaurant operators. If a hygiene offence is committed three times, the restaurant’s license is revoked and the owner’s name blacklisted.

Not wanting to appear unreasonable, the councillors recommended that the list of offences be clearly listed. They also suggested that the revoking of a licence could be appealed through a board whose panel would consist of local councillors (the enforcement agency), resident association representatives (the consumers), and restaurant association representatives (the operators). The implementation of this rule would not be immediate. There would be a six-month trial period to collate the data and help restaurant owners buck up.

Unfortunately, because of protests, the MBPJ has not been able to implement these proposals.

The list of offences is not new. All of them are enshrined in the Food Act and Food Handlers Bylaws. It is also stated clearly in each restaurant licence that if any of the offences listed in the bylaws are committed, the local council has the right to revoke the licence.

The problem, though, is that these laws have not been implemented through the years. There would always be a politician who would appeal on behalf of the offending restaurant, resulting in no action being taken.

Restaurant associations are now up in arms and appealing to every politician they know to stop the local council from resuscitating the implementation of these laws. The associations’ argument is that since these offences are punishable by fines, the payment of fines is sufficient. The associations further argue that in extreme cases, the existing 14-day closure to clean the premises of a dirty restaurant is punishment enough. This is because the restaurant would have lost earnings during the closure period.

In the meantime, the MBPJ’s records show that there are plenty of repeat offenders. One restaurant has even chalked up 40 health-related offences since it opened. But the response from one of the restaurant association members to this evidence was: “Whether it is three strikes, five strikes or one thousand strikes, we don’t care.”

Must someone die of severe food poisoning before we allow the authorities to enforce the rules?

Minor offences?

In a sense, the opposition to the three-strike rule by restaurant association members is due to the fact that they see hygiene offences as something minor and tolerable by the public. After all, their customers return time and again despite the unsanitary practice of washing ingredients in back lanes. I believe many restaurants in SS2 and Damansara Utama Uptown offer such scenic views.

(Pic by hisks /
This mindset of tolerable offences is ingrained in the public psyche for many other issues like double parking. Damansara Utama Uptown and Phileo Damansara are famous for this problem, even though there are ample parking spaces in the area. To tackle this problem, the council purchased four tow trucks this year. Only one has been delivered thus far, so this service may not be all that noticeable for the moment. Whether the tow trucks act as a deterrent remains to be seen.

Dumping rubbish in Section 17 is also a “minor offence” for many people. Despite the local council attempting to convert a particular spot in this residential suburb into a car park, people still dump rubbish there. When the rubbish piles up, the public direct their complaints to the local council for not doing its job. To stop the complaints, the local council was forced to place a large rubbish bin there to ensure an easier clean-up.

There can be a whole list of deterrents drawn up to ensure that the laws are adhered to. But unless people themselves take responsibility for their own actions, how can local councils be effective for the public’s good?

MBPJ councillor KW Mak wants to say something witty about the rule of law. But he isn’t sure if people even care enough about it, because there are so many people who knowingly flout the law.

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5 Responses to “Sabotaging public interest”

  1. Patrick says:

    What constitutes an offence from a restaurant’s point of view? Would washing plates by the roadside and/or drain be counted as a hygiene offence? And if so, wouldn’t 90% of roadside stalls (and many coffeeshops as well) have their licenses revoked?

  2. Sean says:

    I just read about this at The Malaysian [Insider]. I’m in full agreement with you, for what it’s worth. If Malaysia has food hygiene laws and yet still has restaurants like the one I ate at last week, something is badly wrong with law enforcement. I hope you get more support from your local residents, though I fear if you’re taking the initiative on this while they see other areas enjoying lax law enforcement, you could have a difficult time ahead.

  3. Mikazuki says:

    The filthy state of restaurants in PJ is a common knowledge by all it’s residents, but yet we still frequent those restaurants. The problem is the “tidak apa” attitude that we Malaysians have. It’s a case of “it won’t happen to me” which is not true based on my experience.

    As someone who has experienced food poisoning from eating at a very popular (yet filthy, to say the least) restaurant in PJ, I always wonder why these restaurants still operate without any strict action taken against them.

    To think that politicians are helping these errant restaurant operators in appealing their case sent chills through my bone. I guess it’s “you scratch my back, I scratch yours”.

  4. Malini says:

    Consumers’ acceptance lie at the heart of this sad state of affairs. Now, more needs to be done to promote and acknowledge clean restaurants and drive business that way so that unhygienic restaurants die a natural death.

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