Group all set for closure over guidelines


teng@thestar.com.my christinalow@thestar.com.my

THE Petaling Jaya Coffee Bar and Restaurant Operators Associa­tion may revive its plan for a one-day closure if the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) is adamant about proceeding with its new cleanliness guidelines.

The committee members are even considering calling for the resignation of several councillors if things turn sour.

“Last May, we sent out letters to our members seeking their consent to close for a day in protest over the stringent rules and within a week we received written support from most of our members,” chairman Tang Sui Tee told StarMetro at the association’s headquarters in SS2, Petaling Jaya.

The 30-year-old association has more than 600 active members but the actual membership has reached almost 2,000.

“We will take the necessary actions to show our dissent as soon as they launch the new guidelines,” he added.

Tang said the association was in support of all 39 requirements imposed on restaurant operators as those were the basic rights of consumers to ensure food safety when dining out.

However, the association strongly opposed Clause 25 of the 2008 Health Requirements and Prerequisites for Licensing of Food Premises, which stipulates that the business licence of a food outlet will be revoked if it commits the same offence three times in a year.

The guideline was approved in March last year and was supposed to take effect from June but was put on hold following strong criticism from restaurant operators.

After three meetings with the council, one of which involved Selangor local government, study and research committee chairman Ronnie Liu, it was agreed that the new guideline was to be on a six-month trial run starting September last year.

As the trial run was drawing to an end, the association sent a letter to all councillors on Jan 22 requesting for a meeting to re-look the guideline that they still found difficult to comply with but did not receive a reply.

“Liu did not agree to having the three-strike rule from the very beginning but the council still wanted to go ahead with it. We have a good mayor but the problem is with the councillors who must have obtained their degrees from a military school.

“The councillors may be professionals who excel in their respective fields but they have no idea about our predicament.

“Restaurant operators may just face bankruptcy if the new rules are imposed,” he said.

He said the three-strike requirement would be prone to abuse as the enforcement officer could visit the restaurant more often to issue compounds for failure to meet a certain clause.

He added that the restaurant operator would have to churn out tens of thousands of ringgit to tile the walls or extend the exhaust hood to meet the new requirements, which would be costly, especially if his or her tenancy contract was expiring.

He said the rental of a corner lot was RM20,000 or more, application for a foreign worker was RM5,000 while renovations usually cost a lot.

He said the operator would be on the brink of bankruptcy if his licence was revoked suddenly. He highlighted that the guideline used previously, which adopted the merit system, was strict enough to monitor the industry as restaurants that failed to meet the standards would be required to close for two weeks or more until the problems were rectified.

“The council is imposing upon us five-star requirements but we are only charging RM1.20 for a cup of coffee, that’s zero-star pricing. This is the only council in the world to have this three-strike requirement,” he said.

When told that mayor Datuk Mohamad Roslan Sakiman had said the three-strike requirement would only be imposed on cleanliness-related problems, Tang said they could not take anything for granted if it was not in black and white.

He added that the association was disappointed that a councillor had said the council, which is the licence issuer, did not need to obtain approval from the state government before imposing new guidelines.

He said the association would also bring the matter up to the attention of the Malaysia Singapore Coffeeshop Proprietors General Association if it remained unsolved.

Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association vice-president T.Muthusamy said the new ruling was too strict.

“It is like imposing a ‘death sentence’ for small mistakes made by our workers, like wearing slippers or accidentally leaving our utensils outside our premises,” he said.

The decision, he said, would jeorpadise the livelihood of affected business operators.

He said MBPJ should instead create awareness among the consumers to only patronise restaurants which complied with the health standards set.

“If a restaurant is dirty, no one will visit it and eventually the operator of the premises will have to clean it up,” said Muthusamy.

He said the group hoped to meet the local authorities to resolve the issue.

When contacted, MBPJ councillor Michael Soon, who is also MBPJ Public Hygiene and Committee chairman, said there was no progress or update on the issue as yet and refused to comment further. PJ Mayor Datuk Roslan Sakiman could not be reached for comments.

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