Crackdown on illegal restaurants, stores

 25 Nov 2013 - 6:20


One of the outlets closed in the Industrial Area. (INSET) Mohamed Ahmed Al Sayed
DOHA: Municipal officials have unearthed illegal restaurants and provisions stores being run in some labour camps in the Industrial Area, which is home to a large number of low-income workers.
In crackdowns, officials discovered that in some camps people had also opened outlets vending fresh fish and meat.
“They were using rooms in labour camps as restaurants and cafeterias and some rooms were discovered where fresh fish and meat were being sold,” a health monitoring official from the Industrial Area, Ali Mohamed Sheikhan, told Al Sharq.
Meanwhile, in a fresh campaign, the food monitoring unit of Doha Municipality closed down another 49 outlets in the Industrial Area, many of them operating illegally.
There is a near-total lack of consumer rights awareness in the Industrial Area. This, coupled with the workers’ low purchasing power, is one of the reasons why illegal eateries and vending thrive in the area.
Workers don’t know where to complain if they notice an irregularity. Also, the thinking among them invariably is not to get involved with legal complications.
A Nepali worker, who has been living in the area for more than two years, said he frequented two to three eateries but had never thought of making a complaint even if he noticed irregularities.
“I think hygiene is a major issue in the restaurants here and sometimes food is stale,” Brahmabhatt said, giving only his last name.
Enquiries reveal that workers, including those who have had schooling, hardly bother to check if a restaurant or cafeteria is licensed or if it is, its licence is valid. And even if some bother, they keep silent, thinking that is none of their business. 
According to residents, the problem in the area is that some small provision stores sell tea, fresh juices and fast food in a corner on the sly.
Then, there are people who set up an entire eating place illegally. Many licensed eateries don’t bother to get or renew health certification of their workers.
Things have, though, improved considerably after the municipality, under whose jurisdiction the Industrial Area falls, began mounting raids and conducting strict monitoring.
Some three weeks ago, the food monitoring unit closed down several eateries and groceries for gross violations of rules.
A total of 380 outlets were screened and 160 of them were warned to improve their situation, and 53 were shuttered. At least 63 of the outlets that were issued warning have improved their situation to comply with the law. 
According to Mohamed Ahmed Al Sayed, head of the food monitoring unit, a large number of people in the area patronise these outlets, including eateries.
“If an outlet is on the wrong side of the law and is violating consumer rights, for instance, and even if people know, they don’t know where to complain,” Al Sayed told this newspaper. “Language is also a barrier in the case of workers.”
He hinted that given these handicaps, workers are not able to make complaints to the state-run Consumer Protection Department (CPD) for rights violations.
This leaves the municipality taking upon itself the task of checking rights violations as well such as outlets selling substandard food or expired products, apart from carrying out its responsibility of inspecting licensing and compliance with health and safety rules. 
“We want the outlets (in the Industrial Area) to comply with minimum local standards. We are not asking them to go five-star.” He said many outlets were still left out and would be covered in the next phase of inspection drive. “We have limited number of inspectors so we cannot mount raids in the entire area in one day.” Recounting common violations, he said serving bad quality of food, and either not having a licence or not renewing it, and workers not possessing health certifications are major violations.
He said a common violation found in the Industrial Area was that many provision stores and eateries took out refrigerated items, thawed them and stored them back. “This is a dangerous practice.” Asked if CPD would name erring outlets, he said civic inspection laws didn’t allow it.The Peninsula