Down2Earth - One stop too many

MANY moons ago, 2008 to be exact, I was at one of my regular teh-tarik sessions with an event organiser and concert promoter.

We were discussing the possibility of Canadian rock star Avril Lavigne having her concert banned following protests by PAS Youth who deemed the teenager too sexy for Malaysian morals.

At the time of the conversation, there was every likelihood that the show would not go on. This despite the promoters obtaining all relevant approvals and paying millions in deposits for artiste fees, securing Stadium Merdeka as the event venue and the support staff required for a concert that aimed to attract about 20,000 fans.

Even a song list was provided to the Central Agency for Application of Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes (Puspal) – the approving agency under the Ministry of Information, Communications and Multimedia which was supposed to act as a facilitator for concert promoters.

However due to political pressure the authorities started backtracking and said the application was being reviewed.

The concert eventually went ahead and Lavigne performed in Malaysia another two times after that close call.

The concert promoter I was having tea with was at that time agonising over a major coup – bringing Australian pop superstar Kylie Minogue for what would be her first show in Malaysia.

Her management had given a date and the organisers had secured the funding, however, there was one thing that was keeping him from proceeding with Kylie Minogue Live in KL.

"If they can protest against Avril Lavigne can you imagine what they will say about Kylie?" he said with a frown.

He said he could not bear the risk of the authorities banning the show at the 11th hour. He would lose all his investments.

Finally, he decided the financial risk to the company of having to go through fickle approval processes was too much and he passed the chance of what would have been a feather in his cap, and undoubtedly a great show.

One just needs to Google "banned concerts Malaysia" to see what inconveniences concert promoters and event organisers who wish to bring foreign artistes into the country have to face – from clueless officials and back-peddling politicians, and hundreds of thousands of ringgit in refunds and penalties.

Attending a town hall meeting between Puspal and event organisers revealed allegations of unsavoury conduct and abuse of positions with claims of demands to meet the artistes, having a photo taken with them and backstage access to family members and friends.

So perhaps with its self-created problem, the government has come up with a genius solution – set up a one-stop agency to be the go-between for the promoters and the authorities.

The Malaysia Major Events (MME), a division of the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCeb) under the Ministry of Tourism was set up in 2011.

According to its website, it is a "one stop vital resource for keeping the chain running from commencement to completion of an event".

Of course the question is with Puspal already acting as the one-stop centre, why the need for MME? The answer is likely because unlike a government agency like Puspal, the MME is an entity that operates as a business and is able to charge fees as a middleman.

With its constitution it can almost guarantee that an event will go on without a hitch due to its ability to liaise with the various stakeholders.

Almost because in the event of yet another politically-initiated protest can MME rescue the interests of the organisers?

After all, none of them whose events had been cancelled at the last minute have ever sued the authorities for the costs incurred and the loss of revenue.

According to promoters and event organisers, doing so would just be shooting themselves in the foot as they would have to go back to the same parties for future approvals.

Hence they feel that the MME – which does not confine itself to concerts – is an unnecessary added cost (plus GST) because if the existing procedures were adhered to, there would be no need for such an agency.

In the current lean times there is a need to justify one's existence in an organisation or in the food chain. Many are doing away with middlemen.

The MME, however, is an illustration of how some agents can continue to thrive when you have an inflated civil service littered with Little Napoleons, backed by politicians who throw guidelines and rules out the window.

The MME had promised a U2 concert at the end of this year. Terence wonders how that will happen when the group has stopped touring as it is busy recording. Feedback: letters@thesundaily.com