THREE years ago, in one of my first few columns in this newspaper, I highlighted the loophole at Kuching International Airport that allows passengers from outside Sarawak to mingle with passengers arriving from within Sarawak at the airside arrival hall and then walk straight out of the airport without passing through immigration control.
The response from the state immigration director? “Don’t worry, we will catch them when they try to leave.”
Is that not like leaving your front door open for thieves to enter your home and only catch them when they try to leave?
Then immigration personnel at Kuching International Airport stopped my Indonesian maid who had finished her contract and wanted to return home permanently. Why? Just because her work permit had expired by six days so she had to get an exit approval at the immigration office in town, but not at the airport.
I pleaded with the officers that she was leaving, not entering. They refused to budge. This was during the 6P exercise and amnesty programme, ironically.
I even offered to rush to their office in town to get the exit approval and return to the airport, but let my maid board the flight in the meantime. They refused.
They even threatened to arrest my maid for overstaying! Then what? Put her in jail, feed her and deport her using taxpayers’ money?
Here I was paying to fly her off. I didn’t want to return her to her agent, who would simply recycle her. And they didn’t allow it.
So my maid missed her flight. I had to cough up for another ticket and get the exit approval – which was just a stamp by a counter officer at the town office. Why can’t they make the stamp available at the airport?
So I highlighted the idiosyncrasies of the department making it so difficult for foreign workers to leave, but letting in hundreds of thousands of illegal ones with their eyes not very open.
My reward? I was summoned by the department to explain why I should not be charged with obstructing an immigration officer from carrying out his duties!
All this made me boiling mad, but what can a small busybody like me do?
So I feel a bit vindicated when our brave Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem ticked off the immigration department recently.
He had asked how they could be blind to a colony of 500 to 700 Filipinos living in and around Miri. Adenan warned that if nothing was done, we would have a illegal immigrant problem as big as Sabah’s.
According to our CM, weak enforcement basically has been the problem. Why such weak enforcement, is it because of corruption?
Well, the immigration department more or less admitted it when it said it would implement cashless transactions for its services by next January “in an effort to eradicate corruption and increase efficiency”.
It is their own words, not mine. So please don’t summon me or make a police report against me again.
Services affected include workers’ permits, visas, PR passes, border passes, student passes, declaration of goods and payment of duty.
I laud the effort to eradicate corruption. However, I must add that cashless transactions do not stop cash bribes changing hands or any other gratifications in kind.
Adenan also hit the nail on the head when he said: “This is a warning to all companies, not just timber companies, that have allowed labour to come across our border with their encouragement.”
I have said all along, if foreign workers come to Sarawak it is because there are Malaysian employers who want to employ cheap labour for more profits.
Adenan has invited the big six timber companies to join the committee on illegal logging (monitoring enforcement and preventive system).
I would like to volunteer myself as I think the committee needs independent members, not those in the industry itself.
Just last Friday I flew to Bintulu in an ATR aircraft that cruises at a lower altitude. When I looked down all I could see were oil palm plantations as far as the horizon.
Now who was it who claimed that we still have 84% of land under forest cover in 2012?
Then we have Sarawak Energy’s plans to export electricity to Kalimantan. Why are we building more ecologically damaging dams to export electricity to power the economic development of a foreign country?
This reminds of a reader’s response to my column last week questioning Land Development Minister Tan Sri James Masing’s proposal to allow Indonesian workers to cross the border daily or weekly to work in our oil palm plantations near the border.
She asked: “Why don’t we move our plantations to Indonesia instead?”