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How can a law-abiding cybercafé operator survive in corruption-rife Malaysia?


Media Statement        
by Lim Kit Siang  


(Parliament, Thursday) : I have received a heart-rending appeal for help as to how a law-abiding cafe operator could survive in corruption-rife Malaysia.  

The cybercafe operator J  is "almost at the end of the  road"  after being in the business for the past five years and is regretting that he had "picked the wrong country to live and grow by doing business and earn a living". 

He had ventured into the cybercafe business for the last five years after he lost his job as a IT hardware/software salesman. With 2nd class honours degree in Business information System in a UK university, he never got any better job which paid enough commensurate with his qualification. 

He had paid for his entire studies right from local college to university in UK, working since in high school till university as a part-time technician in computer shops, selling self-build computers from home, etc. 

While in UK, he saw cybercafes as a booming industry and dreamt of owning such a business one day. 

But now, he his staring at the stark possibility of having to close down his business with debts of bank loans near to RM1 million - all because a licence  is required to run such a business. 

Back in 2002, when he started with 30 computers in his hometown, he took him more than a year to get a licence to operate the business. Why the one-year wait? 

J explained in his email: 

"because in bolehland if you don't pay those people, they can't sign the papers to approve anything. even though you have followed all the guidelines and rules and regulations. 

"i had no choice but to pay RM2000 to get an approval after waiting for a year for a license which only cost RM280, at the same time there were also others exploiting these cybercafe license to be used as gambling outlets.  

"for the past 5 years those people who misuse the license for gambling industry got more and more license with them to open multiple outlets in entire state while i struggled just to get my only one license to run a completely healthy business.  

"my parents have advice me never ever get into illegal business, for this i even paid up for all the copyright license such as Microsoft, Blizzard, EA and so on. which cost more than 4-5k a month on installment plan in yearly basis. but then to get  a RM280 town council business license was a nightmare. 

"over the years, i expanded my business from 1 outlet to 3 outlets with more than 250 computers, but getting the license to operate such business was on going issue. from RM2000 coffee money to get a license approved the price tag when up as high as RM15000. 

"even after paying i never got my license then. and it got delayed from day to day..." 

J also poured his heart out about his other nightmares in the cybercafe business: 

"next my nightmares started one of my outlet was raided for not having entertainment license and charged in court with computers taken away by the corrupted cops asking for cash and high end computers as settlement. and god knows if the computers are still in one piece after so long.  

"till today DPP still insist that i should be be charged under the entertainment license act even after the YDP has given press statement that cybercafes do not require entertainment license but only business license where i was advice by a license issuing officer ...that they (the police) can only compound for such case with maximum fine of RM2000 and have the no right to take my computers away. I'm still fighting for it but again god knows when its gonna end as the police has taken similar action against other outlet owners and they plead guilty on the charges and carry on with business. some of them did this in hurry hoping that they could get back their computers faster and run business as usual.   

"later to find out, they only got back empty computer casing with all the internal components removed. 

"last 3 weeks more and more such raids are taking place ... police are going all out to shutdown such outlets. i was given warning as well." 

Lamenting that "its the end of the road for me", he cried out in protest: 

"bolehland is now more corrupted then ever. when the police run out of gambling outlets to collect their pocket money, we cybercafe owners are victimised... 

"Bigger cafe owners ...are spared, may be they have more cash to spare to pay off the police and town council to avoid raids. small outlets are victimised to show that they are doing their job. 

"its very unfair with the government not taking full action. if this industry is illegal then cybercafes in the entire country should be wiped out. 

"we have set our own rules and regulations to keep this industry healthy. but if the government says its illegal they should make a public announcement to shut down this industry. 

"bolehand technology industry is going down the drain, comparing this industry with other countries such Singapore, Taiwan, China, Korea  etc. 

"YB, I'm almost at end of the road. at the age of 30 i think i picked the wrong country to live and grow by doing business and earn a living. i hope you can highlight this matter.  

"i find its very hard to fight for rights in this country. any business which the bumiputera's can't venture into big time means illegal in bolehland. 

"please advice." 

I have blogged about the plight of J today  but omitted or deleted references which identified the location of the cybercafe, the town council, state and federal authorities involved.  

I added in my blog: 

“Should the location, town council, state and federal authorities involved be fully identified?  

“How can you and I help J.  Should J fight or succumb to the corrupt system? 

“In my reply to J, I suggested that he be a ‘public test case of how law-abiding cybercafe operators are to survive in  corrupt and busines-unfriendly atmosphere (which extends to all small businesses as well) and to drive home the point that local, state and federal govts have responsibility to assist and facilitate such businesses rather than to hamper, smother and kill them off’. 

“Do you think J should go public and are you prepared to give every help to secure blog and public support to make it into a ‘cause celebre’ not only for J but also the many silent victims in his shoes in all businesses in the country?”


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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