More tech malls lined up for Malay vendors

Malaysian minister fends off public criticism of newly opened bumiputera-only hub

KUALA LUMPUR • A Malaysian minister has said he is planning more tech malls that allow only Malay vendors to operate rent-free for half a year, after the opening of the controversial MARA Digital hub last week.

Rural and Regional Development Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob aired his unhappiness yesterday, after receiving brickbats from Malays who slammed the bumiputera-only MARA Digital which opened on Tuesday last week, the Malay Mail Online news site reported.

MARA Digital, previously dubbed "Low Yat 2", was set up after a brawl broke out between Malays and Chinese at Low Yat Plaza - a popular IT mall packed with mainly Chinese retailers - in Kuala Lumpur.

Occupying the second and third floors of the Atrium Busana mall in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur, MARA Digital is aimed at giving Low Yat Plaza, Malaysia's best-known electronic goods store, a run for its money.

"We should be celebrating the free rental to help the Malays but, instead, I was insulted and humiliated for trying to help the Malays," Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri wrote on his Facebook page, referring to the six months' free rental for MARA Digital traders. "I'm really hoping for the support of the Malays and bumiputera to make MARA Digital successful. My plan is to open it nationwide so that more Malay IT entrepreneurs will come up."

Explaining why he had waived six months of rental for MARA Digital traders to give them an edge in business, he said his aim was to ease the burden on the vendors while giving customers some time to get to know about the new IT hub.

MARA Digital, which opened last week on two floors of the Atrium Busana mall in Kuala Lumpur, is aimed at giving Low Yat Plaza, a popular IT mall packed with mainly Chinese retailers, a run for its money. PHOTO: SIN CHEW

"Some people are afraid that if there's free rental, businessmen will lower prices and it would give competition to businesses in other malls," he said. "But they're contradicting themselves because, at the same time, they say that, supposedly, the prices of handphones are fixed and so they can't be lowered.

"They forget that it's not only mobile phones that are sold there, but also accessories and IT products whose prices can be reduced. I leave it to the wisdom of consumers," he added.

The brawl at Low Yat Plaza in July, which erupted over a petty smartphone theft, quickly escalated into a racial incident between Malays and Chinese.

Three cellphone salesmen were fined RM1,800 (S$590) each for hurting the Malay suspected shoplifter who is still on trial for allegedly stealing the smartphone.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'More tech malls lined up for Malay vendors'. Print Edition | Subscribe