Nightlife stakeholders find minister’s comments hard to swallow

Kyo, located at the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur, has been closed since the MCO started in March. (Kyo pic)

PETALING JAYA: A minister’s recent remark that “it doesn’t matter” if bars and pubs ever open again has left several stakeholders upset that the thousands of jobs and billions of ringgit the industry generates are being trivialised.

Despite nearly all sectors resuming operations during the recovery movement control order (RMCO) period beginning in June, the government’s policy that it would be difficult to observe physical distancing in bars, pubs and nightclubs means these once-vibrant venues have remained shut.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali last week supported the permanent closure of such establishments, saying there was no need to “party until drunk and cause problems” in an apparent reference to drink driving.

Godwin Pereira, the founder of Kyo, a nightclub at the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur, said such general statements were uncalled for and unfairly attacked an industry that paid billions of ringgit in taxes.

“There may be a few bad apples, but it doesn’t apply to the masses,” he said.

“Foreign investors like me have sunk millions into the industry as we want to build a globalised product and feature Malaysia.

Kyo was one of the city’s most popular nightclubs until the MCO put a stop to all nightlife in the country. (Kyo pic)

“There is so much dynamism in the Malaysian tourism scene. Politicians should, therefore, think about what they say because it has an impact on the impression it makes on the country, both locally and internationally,” he said.

Apart from being a key driver of the tourism sector, Malaysia’s nightlife scene provides employment to a variety of DJs, musicians and singers – with promoters, managers, security guards, bartenders, chefs, waiters and a host of other staff also counting on the industry to put food on the table.

A popular DJ in the dance music scene, Victor Goh, said the minister needed to understand that the entertainment and tourism industry went hand in hand and was a vital contributor to the economy in terms of tax dollars.

Popular DJ Victor Goh says shutting down the entertainment industry will have bigger consequences.

“Shutting it down will have bigger consequences,” he said.

DJ Kuma, another veteran local DJ who has spent more than two decades behind the decks, said Khairuddin’s statement could spell the collapse of the music industry.

“It’s a selfish comment. We are a multiracial country which enjoys freedom. This (comment) totally kills all the artistes, musicians and the music industry itself,” he said.

The industry has been in a slump since the movement control order (MCO) was implemented in March to combat the spread of Covid-19, with months of zero revenue – combined with fixed costs such as rent and salaries – eating into the owners’ reserves.

DJ Kuma has been behind the decks at Malaysian clubs for more than two decades.

With high operating expenses – it was previously reported that Zouk Club Kuala Lumpur’s monthly overhead was about RM1 million – it was perhaps no surprise that the Klang Valley Pub, Night Club and Bar Association said in July that 20% of the region’s nightclubs had called it a night since the MCO was announced.

Khairuddin’s comments on his Facebook page were in support of a statement made in jest by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin at a recent convention, during which he said it might be best for pubs and bars to remain closed since it would be difficult to observe physical distancing.

Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob also recently promised to come down hard on those caught at pubs and nightclubs after a record 600 people were arrested at such premises on Aug 31. He said nightclubs and pubs were not allowed to open yet “but they are doing so illegally”.

While Pereira said nightspot operators would readily accept any government SOPs which would allow them to resume their businesses and work towards stemming their losses, bartenders like Zack (not his real name) are hoping they will still have jobs waiting for them once the RMCO is lifted on Dec 31.

“We have all been without work for months, and the minister’s comment is another big blow for us,” said the mixologist at a club in Bangsar.

“With the cost of living constantly increasing, it’s going to be even harder to survive if these nightspots close. Times are tough, and we’re just trying to make ends meet.”