GO FOR THE ‘BIG GUNS’

MACC should go incog­nito at Malaysia, Thai­land bor­der

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer, a grand­fa­ther, adores chil­dren and loves trav­el­ling, both lo­cally and abroad

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.

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