Has Matrade lost its bearings?

By R. Nadeswaran, The Sun

The flyer for the “authentic Malaysian Pasar Malam” event organised by the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) stated that “for one night only, London restaurants will make their mark on the capital by taking part in an authentic pasar malam created by Malaysian Kitchen and to showcase the authentic and vibrant cuisine of Malaysia”.

What is this Malaysian Kitchen and what does it do? What are its objectives? What does it aim to achieve? To have some idea of what it is, its website, www.malaysiakitchen.co.uk, provides some answers, although they seem fuzzy.

It says: “Malaysia Kitchen 2010 is a Malaysian Government initiative that aims to educate and inform British consumers about the inspiring world of Malaysian cuisine. The objective of our campaign is to drive trial, experience and awareness of Malaysian cooking and encourage diners to enjoy the diverse tastes of the country in Malaysian restaurants in London and throughout the UK.

“Through a series of exciting activities and events in 2010 that engage and delight the taste buds, Malaysia Kitchen 2010 will celebrate and promote the cultural diversity and heritage of Malaysian cuisine, from authentic traditional food delicacies, to complex gourmet fusions of subtle flavours and rich spices.”

So, you want the Brits to enjoy and savour Malaysian food, right? You want them to know about Malaysian food, right? Good, but who is the end beneficiary? What benefits do they bring to Malaysia and its people? The 70-odd Malaysian restaurants dotted all over Britain will certainly have extra business but why are Malaysian taxpayers paying for private enterprises to profit? Some of these restaurants may be Malaysian in name but are owned by British citizens and they pay tax to the British government.

If this makes little sense, let’s see what Malaysian dish was sampled by the locals although there was a large presence of Malaysian students included who are missing home-cooking.

Malaysia Night, says the flyer, will offer Londoners an opportunity to “sample food from 20 restaurants showcasing dishes from classic to contemporary, indigenous Malay, “Nyonya Chinese” and “Mamak Indian”! What’s that again? If I had used the term “Mamak” in this column, there would be a big demonstration outside theSun office in Petaling Jaya and police reports accusing this writer and the newspaper of committing sedition.

No, that’s not the crux of the issue. The issue is of using taxpayers’ money to get the best benefit for the nation. Fortunately, no one has claimed that “we are attracting tourists to Malaysia through the bellies of the Brits!” but on a serious note, can someone tell the public what this whole exercise is going to bring about. Then again, Matrade is tasked with promoting trade – our goods and services from Malaysia – not promoting restaurants or helping foreigners to add different flavours to their taste buds. Therefore, the inevitable question is: Has Matrade got its priorities right?

No one will talk about costs because “it has been budgeted for” but those in the know will tell you that occupying Trafalgar Square would definitely cost an arm and a leg. From what I gathered, Matrade or Malaysian Kitchen paid for the marquees, water, electricity and lot. The restaurant operators brought their hot plates, paper plates and cups, sold their food and laughed all the way to the bank while we taxpayers are left demanding for some form of accountability from those entrusted with using our hard-earned money prudently. Can we have some answers in London and Kuala Lumpur or will the officialdom switch to silent mode?

The US government does not spend money on promoting hamburgers and French fries and the British taxpayer does not pay to promote fish and chips. So, why are we paying to promote Malaysian food?