IT'S close to midnight on Thursday and the nightspots near a residential area are packed. Datuk Seri Dr Mohamed Khir Toyo, wearing blue jeans and matching dark jacket plus a baseball cap, walked into a health centre.
Accompanied by a handful of officials, the Selangor Mentri Besar is unrecognisable to the health centre's workers. Soon, it became clear to the 30-over masseurs at the centre what the visit was all about.
Undeterred by intimidation and threats, Dr Khir is continuing with his raids on health centres and nightspots in the state following complaints from the public.
To prevent his raids from being made known, especially information being leaked out, he makes it a point to only call the officers from the various agencies after personally checking the premises.
At the health centre, he found women from Russia, China, Thailand and Indonesia whom he suspects offer sex service besides massage. Among the three locals was a young Malay woman.
Some of the women began making telephone calls. The enforcement officers confiscated their cell phones, saying they would only be returned to them at the district police headquarters where they will be detained.
Another health centre in the area was simultaneously raided. The officers there informed the Mentri Besar that there were more customers at this place.
As the raids ended, reporters from two television stations approached Dr Khir for comments. He appeared hesitant, saying they should approach the council and police instead.
It has certainly not been easy for the young politician. His actions have been dismissed by some people as a publicity stunt. They say the world's oldest profession cannot be eradicated as long as there is demand for it.
They add that Dr Khir had made his point and the job should now be left to those entrusted with it.
They also say it is not the Mentri Besar's job to act against brothel owners and that there are other more pressing matters which he could channel his energies to.
But women groups, especially Wanita MCA and religious groups, have expressed support for his actions, saying the Mentri Besar wants to make a strong statement that he could not tolerate the wanton sex trade in the state.
Many Selangor residents, too, have defended his actions, which shows that the MB feels the pulse of the grassroots.
In a recent interview, Dr Khir said the complaints came mostly from Chinese housewives who lament that their husbands had used the household budget, meant for paying bills and their children's tuition fees, for sex with prostitutes. They had found hotel receipts in their husband's pockets and lipstick stains on their shirts. The women felt betrayed by the actions of their husbands.
If drug abuse involves mostly Malays, Dr Khir said the majority of the clients at health centres were Chinese – at a raid in Damansara, 98% of the customers were Chinese, and at another Ampang raid, all were Chinese.
Poison-pen letters have been sent to the MB's office and the media containing allegations of the involvement of politicians in the lucrative vice business.
It remains to be seen how effective these raids will be. Pessimists say these brothels will resume operations soon, drawing a parallel to the large number of stalls selling pirated VCDs despite the high-profile anti-piracy campaign.
By his own admission, Dr Khir said it would be difficult to fight prostitution because it involved powerful syndicates and most of the sex workers were willingly doing it for big money.
The law, it has also been pointed out, merely states that it is an offence to solicit for sex but in health centres, what takes place inside the room between the masseur and the customer would be difficult for anyone to prove otherwise.
The only action that could be taken against any foreign women caught at health centres is under the immigration laws – for violation of their visit passes.
The odds are stacked against Dr Khir and, realistically, it is almost an impossible crusade.
As a follow-up, the Mentri Besar could perhaps launch a campaign on family values, roping in the various non-government organisations and religious groups of all faiths.
The state government could carry out a health awareness campaign at high-risk neighbourhoods with the cooperation of residents associations. In the long term, such campaigns would be more effective, realistic and sustainable.
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