New rule: A notice at an immigration counter at the Sadao Arrival Boundary Post in Danok, southern Thailand.
BUKIT KAYU HITAM: The Royal Thai Police’s Immigration Bureau is clamping down on excessive demands for tips by its officers manning its land checkpoints with Malaysia.
In a sweeping move that puts an end to this decade-old “tradition” on the Thai side, the bureau has ordered its immigration officers not to “impose any charges” for visitors entering Thailand during “office hours” (9am to 6pm).
At the Sadao Checkpoint yesterday, the bureau has put prominent posters with the wording “No other fees charged in passing this border during office hours” at every immigration counter.
At least 5,000 visitors enter Thailand via Sadao each day after clearing the Bukit Kayu Hitam checkpoint on the Kedah side.
This practice of demanding for a ringgit or two has been so widespread that some officers will refuse to stamp the passport or hold on to the passport until payment is made.
Ng Ah Bah, 70, from Penang said: “The practice of giving money to Thai immigration officers for passport stamping at the border had been going on for more than 20 years.
“Visitors usually give to avoid unnecessary trouble. After all, RM1 or RM2 is not a big amount,” said Ng, who agreed that disallowing the practice is good.
“Many years ago, Malaysians who travelled to Thailand must receive the malaria injection, and those who don’t want to be injected paid the officers on duty,” he said of the origins of the “coffee money” tradition on the Thai side.
Any immigration transaction before 9am or after 6pm constitutes as “overtime” by Thai immigration standards, which explains the sense of entitlement to get a ringgit or two from travellers.
Businessman Tiger Puah, 56, from Klang disagreed with any form of inducement.
“Why should the visitors bear the salary of Thai enforcement personnel when it should be the responsibility of their government?
“The ‘overtime’ payment to process travel documents is unacceptable,” he said.
Kai, 36, a Thai postman in Danok, said the practice had gone out of hand as the officers are not above squeezing their fellow Thais too.
“It is good it has been stopped as Thais also have to pay the coffee money,” he said.
Bangkok Post reported on Tuesday that Thai immigration police chief Natthathorn Prohsunthorn had ordered an end to the tea money practice at the Sadao border crossing, vowing to punish those who defied his order.
However, he confirmed that the payment was valid if visitors arrived between 6am and 9am and between 6pm and 11pm.