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NST Leader: Passport to problems

New Straits Times logo New Straits Times 8/12/2022
© Provided by New Straits Times

HOME ministers come and go, but problems continue to plague the Immigration Department. No, it is not just about the long queues at its counters. These are just symptoms of something more that must be put right. But let's start with the long queues.

Long lines aren't location-specific. It happens, perennially we must say, in every location in the country. What's more, queues grow even at the borders and beyond. An infamous build-up happened last year at our embassy in Singapore. And the standard response by the Immigration Department to all this is: passport renewals have taken to the air. Like anticipating take-off in passport renewals is rocket science.

By the way, isn't the online appointment registration system implemented to put an end to snaking lines? Surely, there must be some fundamental issues with the system for so many people to be forced to shuttle from a failing digital world to the brick-and-mortar one of long queues? Let's give the Immigration Department a reality check. An online system that keeps failing is a sign of crisis.

The department must treat the situation as one. People want an explanation as to why this keeps happening. This newspaper tried contacting the Immigration Department at press time yesterday, but to no avail. Here is our conclusion: it is so much easier to get in touch with our monarch than the director-general of the Immigration Department. Truth be told, the monarch reaches out before the media does him. A regal lesson there for the department?

While the days-old home minister gives this and other perennial problems in the department a deep dive, we have an in-the-meanwhile solution. Immigration officers shouldn't just sit at the counters waiting for the lines to snake to them to issue the numbers.

Take the numbers to the line. Done this way, people needn't queue for hours only to be told to line up again in the afternoon. Be people-centric. Public service means serving the public, not the other way round. Unfortunately for the Immigration Department, digitisation isn't the only devil it is dealing with. Some of its officers are bedeviling the department, too.

Last year in December, the Home Ministry disclosed that several officers were involved in cartels issuing work permits. Not one but many cartels working hand-in-glove with syndicates.

What is worse, the syndicate members walk in and out of the department like they are one of them. Others, with the help of Immigartion officers, park themselves in airports and other entry points, to prey on victims to be trafficked. Some have taken to blatantly advertise their services on social media.

Malaysia, we have a problem. It is not enough to say that "we will make sure this doesn't happen again". It does happen and would happen so long as there are corrupt and corruptible officers in the service. And this isn't just a 2021 story that stains the nation.

In 2016, the media went to the streets reporting the involvement of more than 100 of its officers in Kuala Lumpur International Airport being involved with syndicates bringing foreigners into the country.

The Immigration Department's response? Yes, it has been going on since 2000. Our response? Sixteen years too late. The department may be not ready, able and willing to end its problems, but the home minister must be.

© New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd

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