Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Improvements at Malaysian Immigration Check-points: By: Raymond Anthony Fernando

I always find it so appealing and inspiring to listen to Our Gentle Warrior giving her views on a whole range of topics. Indeed, Ivy Singh has some pretty good ideas up her sleeve, and I am glad that she welcomes views from her audience. Which is why I have written this article. 

A gusto lady who has the courage and conviction to speak her mind, Ivy, in my view, will be a good representative in Parliament – either as a full-time Member of Parliament or as a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament.   

Gentle Warrior in her video “Singapore -KL High-Speed Rail” gave some suggestions on how travel options to our neighbor can be made easier and it includes removing the causeway that was built by the British. She fervently believes that by doing away with the causeway, it will allow the waters to flow naturally again where we can build fish farms and make the coastline beautiful. She also feels that it is much easier for passengers to travel by ferry. These are some of her ideas that can draw the tourists’ dollar.

I agree with Ivy that having more fish farms is an idea that ought to be explored by the authorities. Why? Because it will help create more jobs for Singaporeans and we will not have to be heavily dependent on buying such fresh seafood from abroad. 

I also second her idea of beautifying our coastlines as it will not only be a great tourists’ attraction, but it will also allow for some nice recreation for our own citizens who need to relax in a more conducive environment, instead of being ‘choked’ by a ‘concreate jungle.’  Research has found that 'blue space' including sea, rivers, lakes and even urban water features can have a positive impact on the well-being of human beings. Undoubtedly, the calming effect of a walk by the river or along a beach. Victorian doctors used to prescribe the "sea air" as a cure for an assortment of ages and ailments.

A little background on the causeway:  After 4 years of construction, the Johore-Singapore Causeway was completed in 1923. This causeway was partially severed in 1942 during the Second World War, to prevent the Japanese army from invading Singapore. However, it was rebuilt once the Japanese had captured Singapore. During the 1964 race riots, the causeway had to be closed from 22 to 26 July 1964.

The Johore-Singapore Causeway is the first land link between Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. The second, called the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link, was completed in 1998.

Like Ivy, I too treasure the good ole’ days where life was more relaxed and flowed at a much slower pace. True to every sense of the word, neighbors must be good friends, but there is bound to friction once a while. That’s human nature.  Hiccups left unmanaged can so easily sour relationships. It happens everywhere, in neighborhoods, at the workplace and even in families. Thus, a give-and-take attitude must prevail at all times.

Bombing the causeway? That’s the $500 question!

In retrospect, Ivy’s suggestion of tearing down the causeway, may not be feasible or practical at this point in time for a number of reasons.

Firstly, leaders on both sides are aware of the sensitivity of removing the causeway. It was reported that the proposals on replacing the old causeway with a new bridge had resulted in a political rift between Singapore and Malaysia as far back as the early 2000s’. The Malaysian government envisioned that disagreement by Singapore to participate in the project would result in a crooked bridge above Malaysian waters with half the causeway remaining on the Singapore side. However, Singapore has hinted that it might agree to a bridge if it’s air force is allowed to use part of Johor's airspace. Malaysia refused the offer and negotiation are said to be still ongoing.

Secondly, to tear down the causeway is going to cost a lot of money as it could run into millions of dollars. Then there will also be much inconvenience during the removal of the causeway.

Who is going to bear the costs?  And how much will each side have to foot out?  If it is carried out, will some of the costs be borne through taxes which will be a financial burden on citizens on both sides?

Thirdly, huge sums of money will have to be invested in the upcoming Singapore -Malaysia Rail link.

To me, the crux of traveling to our neighbor is the perpetual delays at the Johore immigration check-points. Therein lies the root of the problem: Manpower shortage, especially doing peak periods.

I have spoken to a fair number of Malaysians who work here in Singapore, and they include those who drive our public buses, SMRT and SBS. Most of them can’t afford to rent a room or a flat in Singapore, so they travel every day to their homes in Johor and back to Singapore on their motorcycles in the wee hours of the morning or after 4pm, when their morning shift ends. They all echo the same concern: In the wee hours of the morning, 3 or 4am, the immigration clearance at Johor and Singapore is smooth, but from 4pm onwards, it takes at least 2 hours for immigration clearance at the Johore check-point.

The Malaysian government is mindful of the thousands of their citizens who travel to Singapore for work, and they include many of our bus drivers. In an effort to strengthen transport connectivity between Singapore and Johore, officials from both sides discussed the new automated system when they met in Singapore on Tuesday for the 12th Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee Meeting for Iskandar Malaysia.  This was described in The Straits Time report on March 8, 2016, “Malaysia to implement automated immigration clearance for motorcycles at JB checkpoints

Although no time frame has been set for its implementation, the automated system will have 100 M-BIKE lanes at the Causeway and 50 lanes at the Second Link for bikers and pillion riders to scan their passports making it much easier and convenient for motorcyclists entering and exiting Johore Bahru.

You would think that building a second link in Tuas would speed up immigration clearance at Johore. Think again. You’ll get stuck in the jam for as long as 2 solid hours.  On eve of public holidays or festive seasons, the situation is even worse. A friend of mine who drives up periodically to Johore and was frustrated in having to wait so long asked the immigration officer why there was such a long delay. The answer given by the immigration officer put him off: “Don’t you know, this is very common?”

I am told that there are 8 lanes at this check-point, but why are there only two lanes opened up during such busy periods?  

I cannot imagine the massive jam ups which will take place if the situation does not improve when the rail link from the two countries is built in 20206.

Perhaps, the PS21 program (Public Service in the 21st Century) ought to be introduced by our Head of our Civil Service to his counterpart in Malaysia and this can be done through the Malaysia-Singapore annual sports games.  In this well-developed program, public sector employees are encouraged to give suggestions and ideas both as individuals or in groups (Work Improvement Teams or WITS) in the civil service to improve services to the public – and they get rewards if their ideas are practical and workable.

If immigration clearance can improve, both sides will benefit tremendously not just in terms of dollars and cents, but also in renewing close ties with our neighbors and paving the way for new friendships to blossom.

Once the rail link between the two countries becomes economically viable, then perhaps Ivy’s suggestion of doing away with the causeway can be re-visited.




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