First step to solving the illegal worker problem is to know a problem exists

The Star/Asia News Network

There is a Malay saying �X Harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi �X which is used to describe a person who, having been entrusted to protect something, betrays the trust given to him or her by working in the opposite direction. This is especially relevant in the world of law enforcement when those tasked with enforcing the law work in cahoots with those they should take action against. Not only do they benefit from such illegalities, they also destroy something in the process �X the integrity of the department that they have pledged to uphold. The numbers may appear small because official reports probably do not show the full picture, but the actions of these crooked law enforcers can unfairly taint the reputation of a whole department. The Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs is coming down hard on agents who bring foreign workers into the country illegally and, more importantly, the immigration officers who work in cahoots with them. ��It is high time that certain clauses are added in the Immigration Act �X to cane agents and immigration personnel for their misdeeds,�� said Minister of Home Affairs Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. While the issue of caning is debatable, we certainly welcome any move to crack down on those who play any role in flooding Malaysia with illegal workers. The immigration department has many roles to play. For ordinary people, the department is seen as a most efficient agency that makes passport applications and renewals such a breeze. But it is also entrusted with the control of who comes in and who goes out of the country, be it by air, sea or land. The officers who check the passports and other documentation of incoming visitors have to ensure that no illegal person slips in. There are of course illegal channels, due to the porous nature of most geographical boundaries, whereby illegal migrants can enter a country without going through the immigration checkpoints. The number of illegal workers in Malaysia can never be confirmed, but various reports indicate that there could be anything between 480,000 and one million of them, primarily in the plantation, construction and manufacturing sectors. These are sectors that are generating good money because labor costs are kept low due to the large foreign workforce. For this situation to persist, there is no doubt that many hidden hands are at work. The agents who bring them in without proper documentation know that there will always be those willing to take them in despite the risk. Such employers are equally guilty and cannot plead ignorance. It’s like shopping for knock-offs when one knows how much the real stuff costs in boutique stores. We should, in fact, make these employers pay heavy fines. Not only for hiring illegal workers, but also for taking up precious law-enforcement resources that could be utilized better elsewhere. Corrupt immigration officers who turn a blind eye to such practices, or worse, and facilitate the entry of illegal migrants should be severely dealt with. The minister must be commended for his frankness in revealing that Immigration tops the list of 10 departments and agencies cited for wrongdoings in a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission report presented to the cabinet recently. Although the department comes under his purview, Dr. Ahmad Zahid has rightfully declared that he wants a thorough clean-up of the department. ��It is my responsibility to ensure the department is free of corrupt personnel and officers,�� he said, warning that the guilty would be fired. The first step in any battle is to recognize that a problem exists. We hope all necessary action will be taken to combat the problem of illegal workers.

This is an editorial published by The Star on Dec. 3.