By Pook Ah Lek, Sin Chew Daily
An associate professor from Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia urged the government three days ago to take stern actions to address the issue of illegal migrants in Sabah, or it may threaten the security of the state and even the entire nation.
However, he seems to have forgotten that the issue is equally serious over here in West Malaysia.
The number of migrant workers in the country has now topped 6.7 million, of whom more than 4.5 million are illegal. This number has been steadily rising over the years and has already put our Indian compatriots as only the fourth largest community in the country.
This easily remind us of the fact that we have a good deal of corrupt officers at the immigration department. While on the one hand they are arresting illegal migrant workers, on the other hand they are also opening the door wide for more to come in, bagging handsome profits from bribes offered by human trafficking syndicates.
These people do not even take a break during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, we have so many illegal migrant workers infiltrating into the country, many already infected with the deadly virus. I'm afraid our health ministry may not be aware of this!
Neighboring Singapore has adopted some targeted screening and quarantine measures in tackling widespread infections among the migrant workers in the city state. Although the number of new infections did rise dramatically during the initial stage, the government knew where each of the migrant workers was, and could therefore carry out blanket screening for every one of them.
Meanwhile in Malaysia, we have way too many foreign workers and it is simply impossible for the government to track down every one of them, in particular those entering the country illegally from Indonesia. They have been able to roam about freely here thanks to the connivance of our corrupt officers at the immigration department as well as border personnel.
As a matter of fact, the culture of corruption has been deeply rooted in our public service sector for decades. We have seen corrupt officers from the PDRM, immigration, national registration, customs, road transport departments and even local authorities being hauled to the court every now and then.
Although the anti-corruption agency has been working very hard to rein in corruption, there seems to be no let-up in the efforts of corrupt officers to make some unwarranted incomes. Thousands of ringgit may no longer be able to satisfy their appetite as they eye millions or even billions nowadays!
This is not just perception but the real big and; small instances of corruption happening around us.
During the past ten years, MACC and the police have comprehended countless of corrupt officers from the immigration department. Of course, there are also black sheep in PDRM that have offered safe passage for illegal foreign workers.
October 2010, eight immigration officers were arrested in Pulau Ketam, Selangor, for collecting bribes from Indonesians so that they could move in and out of the country freely. A month later, the police detained a senior officer at the immigration department and were shocked to discover that these people had kept RM9 million in a Thai bank!
In these two cases, the police took very stern actions against the culprits under the Internal Security Act, but even the ISA has failed to stop these corrupt officers from taking bribes.
May 2016, a hundred immigration officers were found colluding with an illegal syndicate to sabotage the department's MyIMMs system in order to bring in illegal migrants. In the same year, another 18 were detained for helping human trafficking syndicates smuggle illegal migrant workers into the country for up to five years.
February 2017, the Perak immigration chief who had just assumed office earlier that month, was arrested for accepting bribes from operators of entertainment outlets and massage parlors.
December 2017, as many as 135 officers from the KLIA immigration office were punished for their involvement in trafficking illegal migrant workers into the country. 95 of them were subsequently sacked., but weirdly, only four were actually arrested! 600 of the 1,500 officers stationed at the airport were since transferred.
November 2018, the Johor immigration chief was arrested for corruption.
June 2020, the police arrested three immigration officers at Pasir Gudang ferry terminal for counterfeiting entry and exit stamps to help illegal migrants move in and out of the country. In the same month, the police busted a human trafficking syndicate smuggling Rohingyas into the country by sea. 16 people were detained, including a Kedah immigration officer.
The most recent incident has been jaw-dropping. As many as 31 immigration officers were nabbed, including a low-ranking officer with RM4,00 monthly salary but had four luxury sedans worth over RM2 million. He was found to have accepted bribes together with some colleagues for several years from a syndicate counterfeiting border stamps.
It is funny that our politicians can keep an eye closed on corruption and abuse of power but cannot tolerate the sale of alcohol by and to non-Muslims. While present and past administrations have been loud in their counter-corruption operations, the outcome has been insignificant.
Home ministers, current and past, have never seriously looked into the reality that the immigration department has become a hotbed for corruption, and they are completely clueless when it comes to tackling the issue of illegal migrants.
If we mange to stem corruption at the immigration department, we should be able to effectively curtail the continuous inflow of illegal migrants.
They always say we have a long shoreline and it is impossible for our shoreline to be totally impenetrable. Alternatively, they will resort to the easiest so-called "solution" by legalizing the illegals. While this may help bring some revenue to the treasury, it also indirectly emboldens more people to sneak into the country.
It is hoped that after picking up a lesson from the recent spike in the number of new coronavirus cases in the country, the Muhyiddin administration will show some determination to seriously look into the issue of corruption among our immigration officers. We need a drastic change to bring an end to all this.
Moreover, accepting bribes in exchange for facilitated admission of illegal migrants could pose a severe threat to national security and should therefore constitute a very serious crime of treason.