KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's famous 24-hour mamak stalls and hawker centres may soon be no more, if a proposal submitted to the government to clamp down on these late night eateries, apparently to curb social ills, is adopted.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Shahidan Kassim said the proposal to restrict operating hours to midnight followed complaints that such outlets were the reason for the rise in social ills nationwide.
"A note and proposal paper will be submitted to the Deputy Prime Minister and National Social Council," he told reporters at Parliament lobby here yesterday.
"It is not a blanket ban on all restaurants or eateries but those in specific areas such as in housing and rural areas."
Datuk Seri Shahidan assured that franchise outlets such as McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken were not included in the ban.
Mr Shahidan noted that in other countries, most eateries and restaurants closed before midnight.
"Malaysia is perhaps the only country in the world where one can find eateries and restaurants open 24 hours.
"But it's different here due to the presence of many who require the services of this industry, such as tourists, foreign migrants and so on. The leeway has contributed to social ills.
"There are concerns that the young spend too much idle time in such places and get involved in unhealthy activities," Mr Shahidan added.
Besides being favourite haunts for foreign immigrants, he said such eateries also attracted rats and were noisy.
"There can be specific zones to allow restaurants and eateries to operate to ensure residents are not affected," he added.
"This effort (curbing social ills) requires the cooperation of the Tourism and Culture Minister, local authorities like Kuala Lumpur City Hall and other parties."
Mr Shahidan said the issue was also hotly debated on social media, hence the government needed to consider the views of the food and entertainment industry players, as their services were required by both domestic and foreign tourists.
Restaurant owners and patrons are disappointed with the minister's suggestion.
"Clamping down on eateries will not help. The Government should look for the root cause of social ills.
"In fact, we are providing people with a safe and healthy place to have a social life, instead of them going to pubs or bars," Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Operators Association president Noorul Hassan Saul Hameed said.
He said eateries that opened late allowed students who studied through the night and adults working odd hours a place to have their meals.
"Where will these people go if we are not allowed to stay open?" he asked.
"Rent is also high. If we only open till midnight, we may have to increase the price of our food," he said.
He added that having 24-hour eateries also made the surrounding area safer.
"When a mamak restaurant stays open, we add lights and there is more traffic. Criminals will be more afraid of doing anything," said Mr Noorul Hassan.
Petaling Jaya Coffeeshop Association (PJCA) secretary Keu Kok Meng said the minister's proposal would affect the livelihoods of many people.
"We cannot have something like this in KL and Selangor.
"We don't call Selangor the richest state in the country for nothing. Over here, everything goes on for 24 hours and that definitely includes eateries, bars and restaurants," he said.
He said he was confident that local councils would approach coffee shop associations and restaurant owners before implementing any new ruling.
"We have bills and salaries to pay, so something like this is not practical at all," he said.
Mr Colin Balachandran, owner of On Line bar in Damansara Kim, said that in the 2000s, the Selangor government came up with a guideline restricting entertainment outlets from operating after midnight but it did not make any difference.
"If you want to single out restaurants and pubs as the cause of social ills, I don't think it is accurate," he said.
International trade operations specialist N. Karthik Raja said the proposal would make it difficult for people who worked odd hours.
"I work according to United States and United Kingdom time and most of the time I eat out.
"If there are no restaurants after midnight, it will be difficult for people like me," he said.
Learning and development executive Keith Chiang said social ills were caused by people and not businesses.
"So, if you want to stop having people loitering around, penalise the people, not the business."