Let them drink, dance and be merry

Dinner was tolerable and the evening session of Selangor’s local government workshop commenced. This was meant to be the impact session, as they started things with the screening of a short amateur video of enforcement efforts – of the great evils of gambling dens serenading as cybercafes and karaokes that gave their customers more than just music.

The video ended and the presenter stood tall and asked like any good prophet atop his pedestal – how do we stop these heinous things?

And I was thinking – when does the lad board his spacecraft for his return flight to the mother-ship.
There is a severe disconnect in the country in terms of what people are and what people allege themselves to be.

And the puritans have had a free ride for the last twenty years, ruling the roster – and determining all our values from their vantage point.

When gathered in our workgroup a colleague suggested to me, the best way was to increase the start up cost of entertainment outlets. To which I had a look of aghast only.

I am informed in the state of Selangor entertainment outlets when successful in a tedious application process get annual licenses which expire every Jan 1. Irrespective of when the license is issued. So an applicant pays RM25000 for a license that will lapse in less than a year. And there is no renewal, they have to submit completely fresh application. And their fines for non-adherence is high.

This is separate from all the other health and fire safety, and police and immigration rules they have to comply too.

The price of setting up an entertainment outlet in Selangor is prohibitive. So you can understand why I thought my colleague was speaking without all his marbles in place.

I said to him, that if someone is running a legitimate business as a local council we should help the business operate and not take an antagonistic attitude towards them. I was tempted to say – please, pretty please, keep your personal orthodoxy out of effective local governance, because I got pails and pails of libertarian concepts I could shove down those opposed to me.

Local governance has to be practical application of common sense to rules and their enforcement for better meaningful life for residents. Not my values or his. The people’s values.

The numbers

Back in the Toyo days, as Selangor remained the hotbed of the ‘we can be urbane without being any less Islamic’ debate, there was the suggestion that there is to be only one outlet for every 20,000 persons.

Outlets are not homogenous. They are not petrol stations. Not every outlet serves the same thing, and patrons are specific.

In the Klang Valley the simple categories are pub lounges, dance clubs, massage parlours and cybercafes.

I won’t work into sub-categories and fusion spots, suffice to say – they are drawing people to mild escapism – which what any form of relaxation leads to really.

If the law allows for them, then their numbers should not matter – if the principle of Laissez-faire holds, and it should.

Local governments must strenuously zone them, which is appropriate.

Everyone likes some entertainment. Not all entertainment meets the taste of everyone. Some people detest any entertainment other than the ones they are comfortable with – read the conservative who want polite poetry and gospel music appreciation night. All are fine.

We zone them.

Your pubs and nightclubs in non-residential zones, and not close to schools, mosques and churches. The KL draft plan and the respective zoning of Selangor’s 12 local councils would have pencilled in where you can have them. Singapore has the Tanjong Pagar and the Sultan Mohammed zones and the system works well.

Have them there, and enforcement becomes much easier too.

Facilitating business

These businesses are tax-payers and levies from them contribute to the upkeep of the township. The federal government are slowly expecting local governments to run without federal funding, and the answer would be developing a revenue model from existing businesses.

In short, townships fail or succeed based on economic activity in it. They don’t survive on righteousness.

Providing a decent levy and even a scaled one – perhaps rates commensurate to revenue size – will provide incentive for the business to thrive.

When you look at the prohibitive rates now, there is disincentive to operate honestly. There presently exists a compelling reason to circumvent the law and pervert the system.

Yes, please register your disdain to unlawful behaviour, but be practical about them too. If the laws are generally untenable should you not beat yourself for the general divergence to them?

The licensing structure and by-laws must be real, in terms whether anyone can reasonably comply and maintain a bottom-line. As businessmen they have to transfer the cost to customers, and when pricing is contrary to purchasing power – people step away.

This becomes a tipping point for business owners to provide additional services to justify the pricing, which is where all the contention begins.

In many senses, our laws force these businesses to illegal activities.

Soft spots emerging

Like water, when people want something they will find a way – laws or not. As you can see with the increase of soft entertainment outlets – the open mic/karaoke at open air restaurants. Because entertainment outlets are harder to launch, the cunning ones are operating facilities which do not fall under entertainment and on the sly offer it anyway.

There are some outlets in KL which are just open air restaurants with GROs operating as peanut sellers.

The ingenuity of the enterprising person is endless.

Obviously the temptation in a largely feudal nation is to make more laws. Even if the laws are unlikely to be implemented, the appearance of them would make a nice PR exercise.

These soft spots are manifestations of an effort to look for loopholes. Its all too tiring, playing cat and mouse.

The issue of values

The debate has to happen.

My other colleague asked me, would I like to have my mother or sister or wife or child in an entertainment outlet. I said, well yes. I drink alcohol and so do most adult members of my family. A child of four should not be in a nightclub, but the child should not be in a cinema too – so are we going to ban cinemas?

I digress. My point was and still is, a lot of what is disagreeable to some Malaysians is wholly agreeable to others, and most in the middle are indifferent.

Music, dancing, socialising and yes drinking is part of the culture of many people here, and for a small loud group to lord over the debate because the rest of us are cowed to silence, is frankly wrong.

These pubs, lounges and karaokes are not inflitrated and filled by foreigners, they are Malaysians and they are taxpayers. Respect them a little.
Perhaps it is time for the religious orthodoxy to understand what the other side of Malaysia thinks and feels, and find the ability to weigh these thoughts and feelings fairly, from a universal vantage point.

Summary

It is for better or worse a very challenging world, and like the opening lines of the Cheer’s song, everyone wants to get away and find a place where we belong.

These are the entertainment spots.

Some of us want to pray and meditate in prayer halls, others want to imbibe and dance a little, or maybe a lot.

There is business to be had, and joy to be found.

Local councils are being funded by both sides. Therefore it is incredulous for only one side to be engaged, responded to and satiated.

The time has come for local councils to facilitate entertainment outlets in their watch, not curtail them.

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