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Media statement by Lau Weng San in Petaling Jaya on Monday, 17th January 2011:

Support the call for setting up a special fund to assist Muslim workers in making halal livings

I support the call from the Menteri Besar, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim three days ago to set up a special fund to assist Muslim workers in making livings through halal means. I urge the Federal Government to support the call and provide financial assistance to the fund as it will be the first in Malaysia. I will also contribute to the fund out of my constituency development fund.

Certain mainstream media highlight the issue but blow it out of proportion to the extent they give their readers an impression that the state government is undermined. For example, a media reported that there was an "U-turn" made when the state government orders Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) to withdraw the controversial ban on Muslim workers from working in outlets selling alcoholic drinks. An "U-turn", like in the case of Goods and Service Tax (GST), is only made only if the state government withdraws its directive to MPSJ, which does not take place in this case.

An editorial even criticized Pakatan Rakyat for being immature in governing the state government when it claims that "the Pakatan Rakyat government in Selangor has saddled itself with numerous inconsistencies and reversals". If PR government in Selangor is immature due to "numerous inconsistencies and reversals", the BN government in Putrajaya risks of being a fail government due to countless inconsistencies and reversals.

Meanwhile, it is time to compare the content of the enactment (in particular section 18 of Selangor Syariah Criminal Enactment 1995) and the ruling of MPSJ. Section 18 of the Enactment is a special section on drunkening (alcoholic) beverages. The controversial MPSJ ban is based on Section 18(2) which mentions: "Mana-mana orang yang membuat, menjual, menawarkan untuk jualan, mempamerkan untuk jualan, menyimpan atau membeli apa-apa minuman yang memabukkan adalah melakukan suatu kesalahan dan apabila disabitkan boleh didenda tidak melebihi lima ribu ringgit atau dipenjarakan selama tempoh tidak melebihi tiga tahun atau kedua-duanya."

It means it will be an offence for a Muslim who produce, sell, offer to sell, exhibit to sell, store or buy any drunkening (alcoholic) beverages and the person who found guilty will be fined no more than five thousand ringgit or jailed no more than three years or both.

Literally this section of the enactment itself does not specifically spell out that Muslims are banned from working in outlets which serve alcoholic drinks. Alcoholic drinks sold in an outlet to its customers are considered to be sold by the outlets or the owners of the outlets, and not the workers of the outlets. Moreover, if Muslim staffs do not handle or manage alcoholic drinks in these outlets, is Section 18(2) of the Enactment still applicable to them?

The questions that there could be some Muslims who have been working in these genuine outlets like TGI Friday for the past 14 to 17 years and employers risk breaching labour law when they have to forcefully terminate their Muslim employees and breaks their rice-bowls.

Already there are calls for employers not to look at skin colour when advertising jobs. Wordings like "for Chinese only", "for Bumiputera only" or "for Mandarin-speaking applicants" are also not advisable. Therefore the authority should not further aggravate the situation by creating more job segregation with such ban without proper legal consultations and case studies.

The best MPSJ can do is to consult legal experts on the matters before making such decisions. Better still, MPSJ should conduct studies in other Muslim-majority countries or states on how sales of alcoholic drinks are regulated without creating unnecessary inconveniences. The best example is the implementation of "self-regulating" measures taken by Shah Alam City Council which works very well for all stakeholders including religious groups and convenient stores operators.

I must stress that regulating the sales of alcoholic drinks is not something new even in western countries as there are Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission in certain states in USA to provide uniform control over the sale, purchase, transportation, manufacture, consumption and possession of alcoholic beverages in the state.

Finally, the social problem that none of us can deny is the consumption of alcoholic drinks by underage teenagers in public space. I stress that this is the REAL problem which should not be compromised by unnecessary politickings and fact-distorting media reports. This has become an alarming trend and public safety is jeopardized when such teenagers become petty thieves when they are not given the proper assistance.

I believe that religious teaching is one of the best ways to curb such social ills and efforts must be taken to strengthen the spiritual strength of our youths. It is on this that I support the call from the Menteri Besar to set-up a fund to assist Muslims workers in making halal livings.

* Lau Weng San, SA for Kampung Tunku



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