Plea to end red tape on bar licences
By SUSAN FURLONG, BELINDA WALLIS and KIN YU
LICENSING laws should be changed to cut the red tape that owners of bars and restaurants must go through to operate legally, a member of the licensing board said yesterday.
Mr Daniel Wong Kwok-tung said he sympathised with applicants who had invested a lot of money in setting up a bar but had to wait months for a liquor licence.
''If an application is pending for a long time there should be some interim remedy,'' he said.
Mr Wong put forward a proposal last year to allow bars awaiting formal permits to operate under a temporary licence but it was rejected by other board members.
Licensing regulations have been put under the spotlight as the board cracks down on bars flouting the law. But bar owners have hit back saying they are in a situation where they can't win.
The manager of a popular Tsim Sha Tsui bar, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions, said the licensing requirements were full of loopholes.
Both the operators and authorities ''turn a blind eye'' because this was seen as a way of doing business.
''There are many time delays and my bar took 10 months before we received our restaurant licence. They said our air-conditioning was not right and so we changed it, but they came in three or four times over the 10 months and each time it was something else,'' the manager said.
''With rents being what they are, we had to open because we were ready except for the air-conditioning. When we opened, we were fined. Fines are a necessary part of doing business. You get used to it. We've been penalised several times.'' New establishments waiting to open up face a different dilemma, he said. There are no tavern or bar licences and, unless it is a restaurant, the establishment must open as a club.
''Every new bar in town is getting a club licence, but they are not clubs they are bars. They just give out instant memberships at the door.
''The law needs to be changed because it is forcing people to break the law in order to make money. The Liquor Licensing Board blames the trouble on everyone else but themselves.'' A Lan Kwai Fong bar operator echoed similar frustrations at the inconsistencies in the law.
''Technically, it is a contravention of the law, but you have to realise that there is a shortage of labour in Hongkong and they just don't have enough inspectors to do the job.
''People are breaking the law because there is no other way, but everyone looks the other way.'' Liquor Licensing Board chairman, Mr San Stephen Wong Hon-ching, rejected Mr Wong's suggestion of interim licences, saying it would jeopardise public safety.
Premises had to be inspected and approved by the relevant government departments - including the Fires Services, Building and Lands and Urban Services Departments - before a licence could be granted, he said.
''It is not fit to grant a temporary licence if the premises have not been inspected. Many lives could be put at risk.'' Colleague Mr Ringo Chiang Sai-cheong also defended the present system, saying it was the board's duty to safeguard the consumer.
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