PETALING JAYA - The ban on foreigners from being the main cooks at hawker stalls in Penang is not a discriminatory move as hawker licences have always been meant for lower-income Malaysians whose livelihood depends on their cooking skills, Mr Lim Guan Eng, the chief minister of the state, said yesterday.
He suggested, in a statement issued yesterday, that licensed hawkers should perform their cooking duty since the government has enabled them to own a stall.
Responding to critics who said the ban was discriminatory, Mr Lim also pointed out that the new ruling, which would come into effect in 2016, would neither bar foreigners from owning restaurants nor prevent foreign workers from cooking in restaurants.
Ever since Malaysia gained independence, foreigners had never been entitled to hawker licences in the country although foreign workers were allowed to assist, said Mr Lim.
"How can this ruling be undemocratic or discriminatory when it is intended to protect the uniqueness of Penang food, that hawker stalls must be owner-operated and that foreign workers can assist the hawker in other duties?" he asked.
Mr Lim added that there was no question of foreign workers being denied their right to cook as they were merely employees and hence indifferent about whether they were allowed to cook.
When they were told to cook, they were only acting according to instructions, he suggested.
"Further, any culinary skills these foreign workers acquire would be lost because foreign workers will have to return home after a period of time," he said.
Mr Lim also said the ruling did not prevent Malaysians from other states from getting hawker licences and operating hawker stalls in Penang.
"Ultimately it is all about the branding of Penang food," he said.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK