‘Seek views before drawing up new health policies’

Dr-Jacob-George-24-hour-eateriesPETALING JAYA: The Consumers Association of Subang and Shah Alam, Selangor (Cassa) has criticised the health ministry’s new policies on promoting healthier living, including limiting 24-hour eateries.

It claims no proper studies or discussions with stakeholders were made before drawing up these policies.

Cassa president Dr Jacob George said the ministry should have initiated comprehensive consultation with related bodies, associations or ministries which could have provided valuable feedback.

“When you limit restaurants’ operating hours, you are impacting on their business.

“When you make policy decisions which can disrupt economic activities, you are inviting trouble and public resentment.

“For example, not everyone is working at fixed hours from 8am to 5pm,” he told FMT, referring to a new policy that will limit operating hours of eateries until midnight.

This policy is to be carried out in stages in 2018 and 2019.

George referred to pro-tourism countries like Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Hong Kong which allow long operating hours for restaurants to woo tourists.

He asked where people would eat if eateries closed early and what alternatives there were for those who did not cook at home or those working on shifts.

He said if the health ministry was really interested in promoting a healthy lifestyle, then it should first do a post-mortem on its previous million-ringgit lifestyle campaigns.

He claimed these campaigns were a disaster due to incompetence, disastrous delivery system and failure to rope in stakeholders.

“Look at the cleanliness in our hospitals which look like pasar malam with outside businesses operating in the lobby and open spaces.

“This goes against international protocols on safety and hygiene. Hospitals need the space in case of emergency evacuation.

“Have the policymakers visited all the major hospitals in the country pertaining to this?

“What about the quality of food sold within the canteens?”

George said he had a 40-year track record of addressing hospital policy issues in Malaysia but had not been invited for any discussions or sought for feedback by the ministry.

He said the ministry must be more transparent and accountable in its policies.

New Straits Times reported recently that a special cabinet committee had come up with 13 new policies to promote healthier living and fight non-communicable diseases.

These policies include banning advertisements on food and drinks with high fat, salt and sugar content.

They encourage eating of fruits and vegetables in schools and workplaces.

Sports equipment will be exempted from import duties while newly-launched housing schemes will have “green areas”, including bicycle lanes and hiking spots.

Unlike Cassa, Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president SM Mohamed Idris welcomed the move to limit the operating hours of eateries as eating late at night was unhealthy.

“It is a good idea to close the restaurants early because people do not know the right time to eat.

“If they eat late at midnight, they are likely to skip breakfast the next day which is not good for them,” he told FMT.

He wanted higher taxes to be imposed quickly on any product containing sugar.

Idris said walking, jogging and other exercises did not require people to spend extra to keep themselves fit.