Penang island puts limits on foreign retailers

All in order: Firuze, a shop helper, arranging goods at a shop selling imported items from Myanmar at Level Two in Komtar Tower, Penang.
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

GEORGE TOWN - To curb foreigners from taking over Penang island's retail sector, the city council is enforcing a set of new rulings on foreign businessmen.

Businesses owned by foreigners cannot sell fresh produce, seafood or frozen food from July 1.

Penang Island City Council (MBPP) will also not let them own any sort of service business.

These include tailoring, hair salons and barbers, laundry services, gaming centres, convalescent homes, cybercafes, massage and beauty centres, private car parks, car washes, car or motorcycle workshops, and entertainment outlets.

For those trying to use loopholes, such as using their Malaysian spouse's names to register the businesses, MBPP Licensing and Public Health Standing Committee alternate chairman Ong Ah Teong said there were control measures for that.

Also, he said, "the sales or cashier counter must be manned by Malaysians. Thirty per cent of the staff in the shop must be Malaysian."

Foreigners can start restaurants but the cuisine must not be Malaysian.

"We will not allow them to serve char koay teow or nasi kandar, for instance," Ong said.

If they open any kind of retail or sundry shop, at least 70 per cent of the goods sold must be from their homeland.

These new rulings were passed at the MBPP full council meeting at City Hall yesterday.

Ong said it was mainly to stop foreigners from flooding the retail sector in Penang.

"But we also want to ensure hygiene. Some foreigners sell fresh produce in sundry shops without proper refrigeration," he said.

A check by The Star on shops in Jalan Gurdwara showed several manned by foreigners.

When approached, they denied being the proprietor and gave the contact number of the boss.

Store owner Ali Thamby, 46, said his shop was often mistakenly thought to be foreign owned because it was manned by five Bangladeshis.

"I have been operating for about 15 years now. The customers are mostly foreigners but some locals buy here too.

"We sell vegetables from Cameron Highlands and dry items from India and Bangladesh," he said.

A visit to Level Two of Komtar, where many shops selling Thai and Myanmar products have existed for years, saw many of them closed.

The few still operating said the owners were locals.

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