GO FOR THE ‘BIG GUNS’
MACC should go incognito at Malaysia, Thailand border
SMUGGLING is a perennial problem at the borders of many countries, including Malaysia. In Kelantan, the Malaysian-Thai border is marked by Sungai Golok, which runs a length of 96km from Pengkalan Kubor to Jeli. It is the only river boundary in the peninsula, unlike the land borders in Bukit Kayu Hitam in Kedah, Padang Besar (Perlis) and Pengkalan Hulu (Perak), making enforcement doubly hard.
Economist Professor Dr Rosdi Ab Rahman, from Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, says smuggling is inevitable if the economies of countries that share a border are not on a par, with one being better than the other.
In this sense, life in Malaysia is better, and it is also the reason for the flow of goods into the country. Foodstuff, like rice, vegetables, fruits, fish, chicken and beef, clothes, beer, drugs, weapons... the list goes on.
Some time back, a man even tried to smuggle in an M-16 rifle in a guitar case on an express bus in Rantau Panjang, but he was nabbed by the Anti-Smuggling Unit at a roadblock.
The main reason Thai goods are in demand in Kelantan, as well as other neighbouring states, is because they are cheaper than local goods and, sometimes, better. In these hard times, especially, such items are what consumers seek.
Some Malaysians who live near the border enter Thailand to stock up on essentials in the border towns of Sungai Golok and Pengkalan Kubor — at times, even to have meals.
The government has talked about constructing a wall along the border, and a deputy minister spoke of the possibility of building an embankment to boost security.
The construction of a wall is costly and might not be suitable for the entire 100km of the border.
An embankment would be cheaper and better for certain areas, especially from Rantau Panjang to Pengkalan Kubor, where most smuggling activities occur. It would allow enforcement officers to have a better view of the goings-on at Sungai Golok and, possibly, mitigate floods during the annual monsoon season.
Many reasons have been given for the influx of Thai goods, and observers point out that the chief culprit is lax security on our side.
However, officials have been quick to say Sungai Golok is lengthy and there is just not enough manpower to guard the border round the clock.
Enforcement agencies need to beef up operations, not against locals who cross the border to get essential items in these challenging times or even petty smugglers, but against syndicates, especially those that traffic firearms, drugs and people.
Many have accused border officials of involvement in graft, and this needs to be investigated. Such claims have been acknowledged by police and other government officials, too.
When asked by the media some years ago, a General Operations Force commander, who was in charge of anti-smuggling operations in Rantau Panjang, admitted to the problem.
“How can smuggling be eradicated at the border when enforcement agencies are collecting ‘toll’ (bribes) from smugglers?”
A journalist colleague who visited a friend’s house in Tumpat was shocked when told by the head of the household that he earned a living by smuggling petrol across the border. The man said there was no risk of getting caught as smugglers paid RM20,000 a month to border officials.
It is high time the Malaysian AntiCorruption Commission went undercover to verify these claims and identify those involved.