Six months for the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to complete its fact-finding mission on immigrants in Sabah, as announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in Kota Kinabalu yesterday.
I personally support the move. However, it is too short a duration when the size of Sabah, its complexity, the big number of immigrants and 'the hidden hands' are taken into account!
Yup! I doubt 6 months will suffice. We need at least a year or slightly more if we want to see results. Most importantly, we should learn from the failure of Home Ministry's 6P program in tabulating the right formula to address the issue of foreign workers in the country.
Furthermore, the RCI is a national issue and not confined to Sabah alone. The overflow of immigrants in Sabah to Sarawak and the Peninsula has gone unchecked for many years. For some reasons, our immigration law is partly to be blamed for its failure to detect and monitor their 'arrival'.
The law needs some amendments, notably to the bias provision which only imposes those from West Malaysia to the East be scrutinised while those traveling from Sabah and Sarawak to the Peninsula are allowed a free passage, just like going from Kuala Lumpur to Penang and Kota Bharu. Do we still need that 55 years after Merdeka?
That's why the immigrant issue must be taken into a larger perspective. It is a national issue unless the RCI is set up during the early 1990s before those in Sabah began flying to the Peninsula.
And in carrying out its duty, the RCI should also include a representative each from the Home Ministry, the MACC, the Indonesian and Philippines embassies and the media.
The names announced by Najib as members of the commission are heavyweights but not good enough as we need more help on the ground. Just like Umno, its grass root members know more about the problems downstairs than those at the top - and they can easily identify reasons why their branch and division heads are reluctant to feed the bosses with the true picture of the problems.
Why? This is where the MACC role is needed to twist the 'hidden hands' behind the immigrant issue.
Immigrant, whether they are legalised or not, is a big business. Over the years, those dealing with them made quick bucks by bringing them in and arranging for their visa, permit, etc. Human trading has become an industry to some. Hence, it is not wrong for other governments to label Malaysia as the transit for human trafficking.
The outsourcing license given to hundreds of agents during the late 1990s started it all. Our rapid economic growth and massive development had attributed to the problem too. As locals were not keen anymore to work in the plantation and manufacturing sectors, it left us to no choice but to import foreign workers.
This opened up the doors to job seekers from more than a dozen countries to move in to Malaysia. Those who entered the country legally with valid travel documents were then exploited by these agents who promised them jobs and awesome salary. At one time, the number of foreigners in the country surpassed the number of jobs.
It led to other 'opportunities'. Those who were supposed to uphold the law also saw the big bucks coming in to their purse by providing assistance to the agents, regardless of whether they submitted genuine or fake documents to legalise the foreigners. They punchline was always money - you scrub my back, I scrub yours!
And so, it went out of control. Not in Sabah alone but the whole nation is affected and infected by the trend. Some personnel at the Home Ministry, Human Resource Ministry, the Immigration Dept, the police, the National Registration Dept and other related agencies who didn't want to miss the boat, also jump onto the bandwagon.
The so-called foreign workers' business became so dirty that one could offer money to high-ranking politicians for letter of support and to influence the authorities approve any application to bring in more foreign workers. Money changed hands but more and more foreigners found themselves stranded without any job.
We also 'allowed' many foreigners to overstay and work longer than what was stipulated in the agreement. Some had stayed more than 10 years now and in some cases, more than 15 years which saw many of them grabbed the opportunity to become 'Malaysians'.
Many of their Malaysian-born kids are already reaching their teen age while some are over 30 years old. Those who came to Malaysia about 20 or 30 years ago are already retired, and together with their children, grandchildren and friends, they don't have proper document.
We can't call them Malaysians because they don't possess Malaysian ID. Neither are their kids nationals of any country. They are categorised as 'persona non grata', people without any citizenship status and are not wanted anywhere in the world.
However, they managed to get Malaysian identification card - as full citizen or PR - with the help of our corrupt NRD officers. Its so rampant in Sabah where more than one person hold similar ID number.
Whatever it is, we are human. We should treat them accordingly and give them proper assistance should they qualify. Those who 'pass' citizenship test should be considered ID cards or PR status. Flushing them out will not only expose them to a more difficult situation but will also make us inhumane.
I don't want to detail out the 6P problems but Najib and his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who is Cabinet Committee chairman on Foreign Workers are aware of it.
We need a new logical formula in finding an amicable solution to the immigrant problems. No need to point finger at anybody as we need a concerted effort to solve it. As the RCI has yet to start its official duty, there is still time to look into positive recommendations and inputs.