Wednesday, March 22, 2017
PETALING JAYA: Opponents of the Sedition Act have rejected Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz’s defence of it as a tool against extremism.
Lawyer Syahredzan Johan told FMT that the definition of “sedition” in the act was too broad and the authorities often took advantage of this to abuse it.
“The Sedition Act places the threshold for freedom of speech and expression too low,” he said.
“Anything and everything can be seditious. The definition is too wide and allows for arbitrary application by the authorities. We have seen how it can be abused to silence dissent instead of curbing hatred as claimed.”
Nazri had earlier said that the use of the Sedition Act could curb religious and racial extremism, especially as manifested on social media.
Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy said Nazri’s statement was not supported by fact. He alleged that most arrests under the act were aimed at suppressing political dissent.
“The minister should tell us how many cases under the Sedition Act had anything to do with incitement of racial or religious violence.”
Melissa Sasidaran of Lawyers for Liberty labelled the act as an outdated law, saying it served no purpose other than to be a “convenient tool” for the government to suppress dissent.
“As for freedom of speech, the threshold to make something an offence must be higher, such as at the point where it incites violence or harm against someone.”
She agreed that racially-charged comments should not be acceptable, but she said the offence did not deserve to be criminalised.
“It is for us as citizens and community leaders to call out such undesirable statements and condemn those who make these statements.”
Syahredzan gave a similar opinion, saying there already were other laws to deal with incitement of racial or religious hatred, such as the Penal Code.
“At the end of the day, we cannot legislate harmony,” he said. “We cannot force people to love each other by threatening punishment through the law.
“A mature democratic society must deal with the racists and extremists in our midst through dialogue and discourse.” -FMT
By Dennis Ignatius
The recent assassination of Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (klia2) grabbed headlines around the world; it also highlighted the fact that our immigration system appears to be hopelessly broken and is in need of an urgent overhaul.
Ri Jong Chol, one of the initial North Korean suspects, who was subsequently released and deported, was found to have entered the country on false pretences. So what was he doing here and how is it that he was able to go undetected for so long?
Other North Koreans involved in the assassination plot appeared to have moved in and out of the country with equal ease.
We now have to face the possibility that Kuala Lumpur was chosen as the site of the attack because it was such an easy place to enter and operate from. And if North Korean assassins can operate in Malaysia with such ease, we have to assume that both terrorists and criminals are also doing likewise.
The alarming fact is that there are now hundreds of thousands of foreigners living in Malaysia illegally; no one knows who they are, how they entered or what they are up to.
A paradise for terrorists and assassins
One has only to sift through local media reports, many of which quote our own government officials, to notice a recurring pattern of failure by both Home Affairs and Immigration to stem the tidal wave of forged passports, visa abuse and other immigration-related violations.
In the last few months alone, local media have reported that nationals from Yemen, Bangladesh, Morocco, Indonesia and Nepal have been detained for suspected terrorism-related activities, including a planned attack on a visiting Saudi delegation.
One thing that all those arrested had in common is that they entered undetected under false pretences or with forged documentation.
So lax is our immigration system that some of these terrorists managed to enter Malaysia even after being deported from other countries or after having been released from jail for terrorism offences elsewhere. Others, according to police statements, were known terrorist sympathizers, IS operatives and gunrunners.
Among the better known cases was that of a Bangladeshi “businessman” with links to one of the ISIS suspects involved in the attack on a café in Dhaka last July which killed 22 people. The suspect, also a known gunrunner, had been happily living in KL and was the proud owner of a restaurant in the city.
Another foreigner, also arrested for terrorism-related offenses, owned not just a restaurant but several entertainment outlets in the city as well.
Obviously, anyone, it seems, can enter illegally and then operate a business here without having to worry about such inconvenient things like laws, licences and taxes that Malaysian citizens have to deal with.
Malaysia’s apparently well-deserved reputation as a “transit point and hideout,” as the Inspector-General of Police himself put it, can be attributed to three factors – an inane visa regime, incompetence, and corruption.
An inane visa regime
At a time when most countries are tightening entry requirements, Malaysia has gone the other way in order to attract more tourists. Foreign nationals from dozens of countries can now obtain a visa on arrival making it difficult, if not impossible, to carry out any prior background checks on them.
While granting visa-free travel to some countries makes a lot of sense, granting such facilities to countries like North Korea and others, which have hardly any tourists to speak off or have a proven history of visa abuse, simply makes Malaysia a magnet for all sorts of unsavoury characters.
The same is true of student visas. We appear to be so desperate to grow our education industry that almost anyone from anywhere in the world can easily get a student visa to enter Malaysia. While many students are, of course, genuine and ought to be welcomed, there needs to be a vigorous and effective system of checks to make sure the programme is not abused. As it is, several of those who entered on student visas have been found to be involved in terrorist-related activities.
Free to do whatever you want
Second, our immigration department has proven extremely negligent, incompetent even, in providing an adequate level of oversight and scrutiny of foreign visitors. Too many visitors are overstaying or abusing the terms and conditions of their visas without ever being detected.
To all intent and purposes, visa free has come to mean free to stay for as long as you like, free to do whatever you want.
From time to time, the authorities make a big show of rounding up illegals but these are mostly hapless refugees rather than criminals, terrorists or others who abuse our hospitality and take advantage of our openness.
Third, there is the issue of corruption. Last December, for example, it was reported that corruption, mismanagement and failure to adhere to standard security procedures had compromised the immigration department, leaving the country exposed to terrorists and human traffickers.
Unknown persons were deliberately allowed to bypass checks and facial recognition technology at entry points and baggage checks. In all, 37 immigration officers were involved.
Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan called it “dangerous” though the Minister of Home Affairs later insisted, rather unconvincingly, that no terrorists had entered.
More recently, it was reported that 10 Immigration officers were detained in Sarawak for allegedly taking bribes to enable illegal immigrants to enter the state without travel documents or work permits. From Sarawak these illegals are, of course, free to go anywhere in Malaysia.
And so, while the Sarawak state government goes to great lengths to ban Malaysian citizens, even members of parliament, from entering through the front door, corrupt officials allow all sorts of nefarious characters to enter by the back door!
According to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the situation is getting worse. Going by the law of averages, there must be an awful lot of corrupt officials currently manning, among others, sensitive positions in Immigration, Customs and other services that are responsible for the protection of the nation’s borders.
Dysfunctional and incompetent
Clearly, our immigration system is now so dysfunctional, so incompetent, so corrupt that we are defenceless, a nation with broken borders.
In fact, there is a process of colonization going on right under our very noses, a massive abuse of our immigration system, our hospitality, our openness. People are coming from all over the world to settle down, start a business, buy property, access the healthcare system, hide out, plan their next terrorist attack, promote their own ideology and recruit followers, and eventually, by hook or by crook, acquire permanent resident status if not citizenship.
We are losing our country bit by bit and yet it evokes so little concern from those in power. They make grand speeches about patriotism but betray the country by their wilful neglect of our borders. They are so focused on keeping tabs on Malaysian citizens that they can’t see the silent invasion of the country that is taking place.
We don’t need to build a wall to keep our country safe; we just need sane policies and an immigration department that is both competent and honest. Is that too much to expect?
Dennis Ignatius is an FMT reader.
IPOH: People are urged not to put family photos, especially that of their children as the profile photo on WhatsApp because it can endanger their safety triggering untoward incidents.
Personal data protection department assistant commissioner Mohd Shazrol Mohd Shah said it was feared that malicious people would have access to the images and later recognise the faces of the children of the owner of the phone number.
“WhatsApp profile pictures are to identify friends but we recommend that they put a nice picture of themselves,” he said.
Shazrol was speaking to Bernama after the Industry Information Sharing Session 2017, organised by the Communications and Multimedia Consumer Forum of Malaysia in conjunction with World Consumer Rights Day here yesterday.
Earlier, in his briefing, Shazrol advised parents not to put pictures of their children on social networking sites such as Facebook (FB) as this posed a crime risk.
“This is because although the picture in the FB account has been deleted, it is still stored as data in the overseas social media sites because the social networking site data is processed outside the country,” he said. -FMT
A recent article about Malaysia being the fourth happiest place in Asia must have been met with incredulity by those who aren’t so happy with conditions in the country. They would be thinking of the recession they believe the country is headed for, the falling ringgit, the number of high-profile arrests the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has been making and the frustration of knowing that “everything is going up but my salary”.
However, one comment on the article from an FMT reader, Henry Por Soon Aik, seems to explain why Malaysians are happy in spite of all the gloom: there’s always something to laugh about in our godforsaken country.
We have comical characters like Red Shirts leader Jamal Yunos, whose antics could give even Harith Iskandar a run for his money. But Jamal is only an exaggerated version of some of the politicians we have as our elected representatives and that itself is comic gold.
We all remember Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Abdul Rahman’s “Kok-up” in the Dewan Rakyat and how he got riled up by the media for doing its job and Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad for calling him a “menteri sial” (accursed minister). You can’t make that kind of stuff up.
In Malaysia, we have religious authorities arresting married couples for being alone in a hotel room together. The fact that this is an indisputable fact should be enough to prove how ridiculous some of the things that happen in this country are. Thankfully, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang’s private member’s bill has not been passed yet, because – and here’s a gag – if it had been passed, then this married couple could be jailed for 30 years for doing what married couples are encouraged to do.
And yes, you read that right, married couples are encouraged to procreate in this country, where even the cost of bread is so high that you have no choice but to laugh off your hunger to keep body and soul together. Just ask the Terengganu government, which is handing out RM500 cash incentives for eighth and consecutive children.
Speaking of bread, did you notice that though we can’t afford to put fuel in our cars and despite the continually rising price of sugar, we still somehow manage to get ourselves to the closest McDonald’s or mamak stall. As a result of all the food we’re accustomed to – or the only food we can afford – we have become one of Asia’s fattest countries.
Meanwhile, we have economists who are trying their best to convince us that everything is still fine and dandy even though the truth is staring you so hard in the face it almost feels like you’re a lorry driver who has accidentally backed into a Mercedes and have had your head kicked in by goons employed by a datuk. By the way, has anyone counted the number of reported crimes involving datuks these days?
On the topic of security, Lawyers for Liberty’s Eric Paulsen recently sent out a tweet saying, “Of all the countries you could piss off, you chose North Korea.”
All of the above could easily cause fear or anger in societies that don’t have our sense of humour. So hats off to Malaysians because we’ve decided to take things with a positive attitude and laugh out loud. That’s the only way to interpret the findings about Malaysia in the 2017 World Happiness Report.
Still, we have spoken only of a handful of things that give us a good laugh. The comment section below is for you to give more examples. Do we have any choice but to laugh all our troubles away? -FMT
KUALA LUMPUR: The higher education ministry (MOHE) is willing to consider recognising the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) for purposes of entry to public universities if it meets stipulated conditions.
Its minister, Idris Jusoh, said among the conditions were that the evaluation of the certificate must be done by the Malaysian Examination Board and not an independent evaluation body, in line with the National Education Policy.
“The Bahasa Melayu subject in UEC must be on par with Bahasa Melayu at the Sijil Peperiksaan Malaysia (SPM) level and national history coverage in the UEC curriculum must be in line with national history.”
He said this when winding up debate on the motion of thanks for the royal address for his ministry in the Dewan Rakyat today.
Idris said, to date, the UEC was not accepted for entry to public universities because the curriculum used was not in line with the national curriculum as stated in the Education Act 1996.
Meanwhile, Idris said based on the Graduates Tracer Study System (SKPG), 77.3% of graduates out of 238,190 respondents were employed after six months of graduating last year.
He said his ministry used the system to measure the marketability of graduates.
“The balance of 22.7%, who were still unemployed, actually had dropped compared with the previous year, by 1.36%.”
According to Idris, based on the same system, his ministry found the marketability of polytechnic graduates rose to 88.7% while the marketability of community college graduates recorded 97.2%. -FMT
A good meal on their day off is a rare treat for four Indonesian girls who met reporters from Malaysiakini and Jakarta-based magazine Tempo over lunch on a Sunday last month.
The sweet sour tofu, bean sprouts, sausages and nuggets they ordered to share were perhaps the more familiar items from a menu which specialises in delicacies from Northern Peninsula Malaysia.
“I haven’t eaten since this morning,” said Sundari, not her real name. “The company does not provide breakfast on Sundays.”
She revealed that there were times their breakfast would only consist of white rice with tempe or vegetables, or even just rice and crackers. Lunch is not much different.
“The company provides lunch, but often there would not be enough for the 170-plus workers,” said Denok, Sundari’s friend. And for dinner, the workers would be on their own.
All four of them hail from Semarang, a northern port city on the island of Java, and now working at Maxim Birdnest Sdn Bhd based in Klang. Their main duty is to process the swiftlet nests into prized exports bound for China.
The company is owned by Albert Tei, a 29-year-old entrepreneur who also controls several manpower agencies, a carwash chain and laundromats.
He uploaded pictures of him in full regalia after receiving a datukship, and a picture next to Immigration director Mustafar Ali on his public Instagram account. The account was no longer accessible after Indonesian media published a picture of him posing in front of Maxim Birdnest, sourced from that account.
Left with only RM200 per month after deductions
Three of the four teenagers sported dark eyebags that made them look much older than their real age.
According to Sundari, they were often forced to work for more than 12 hours a day - and sometimes up to 16 hours - to reach the minimum target of 15 birds’ nests a day.
If they fail, the company would deduct the amount from their monthly wage - starting from RM900, with an additional RM338 for two hours of overtime.
The 15 nests’ daily target is set despite the tedious process of cleaning one nest using tweezers potentially taking up more than one hour. “I fainted twice before due to exhaustion,” said Denok.
The contract they signed with the company stated an 8-hour work day with an additional two hours paid overtime. They work a six-day week.
All four of them said that Maxim often made arbitrary deductions to their wages. For example, Denok said, a worker who takes sick leave would see their wage deducted by RM50 daily. She also claimed the company has refused to pay for their doctor’s fees.
She further claimed they were often denied the extra RM338 for two hours of daily overtime. For their meagre meals, the company made a mandatory monthly deduction of RM200, she said.
From their monthly salary, a deduction of RM108 purportedly for tax purposes was also imposed. As a result, she said there were cases of Indonesian workers who only received less than half of their total paycheck.
Payslips showed by several staff members corroborate the claims. One staff member received less than RM200 from the minimum gross amount of RM1,228.
Under the Malaysian Employment Act 1955, an employer is prohibited from making deductions amounting to more than 50 per cent of the monthly gross salary.
“Looking at the working hours and amount of pay they (Maxim workers) received, this (situation) is akin to slavery,” said Alex Ong, the Malaysian representative for Migrant Care, a Jakarta-based rights group.
The Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur’s labour attache Mustafa Kamal is also of the view that Maxim has breached the law that regulates workers in Malaysia.
Among others, he cited the RM900 basic salary as falling below the new minimum wage of RM1,000 effective June last year.
“Even if their initial (employment) contract is signed at RM900, the company must now raise it (the minimum wage) to RM1,000, as required under the law,” said Mustafa when met at his office.
As for the working hours, he described it as being “too long”.
‘We feed them chicken, too’
Tei meanwhile denied breaking any labour laws and insisted that he is just following the terms agreed in their contracts.
Any new workers who signed after the new minimum wage was put into effect would receive RM1,000, he said, during a late night interview at his factory in Klang.
He also denied that his staff were “forced” to work more than 10 hours a day.
“We have two shifts. Morning and night. There were times when the workers themselves applied to work longer hours to meet their target and earn a bonus.”
However, a payslip of a worker who started in July 2016, a month after the minimum wage was hiked to RM1,000, states the old amount of RM900.
Asked about the worker who received less than RM200 in nett salary, Tei claimed it was because she had been absent from work over several days that month.
On claims of meagre meals, Tei meanwhile said, “We feed them chicken too”. He also laughed off Denok’s account of having fainted from exhaustion. “No such thing,” said Tei who was accompanied by his assistant Grace Tan.
Tei and Tan also provided a tour of Maxim’s facilities. He claimed to provide the best facilities for the workers, whom he always referred to as “our children” (anak-anak).
Going up and down several flights of stairs, they highlighted the air-conditioned dorm rooms, laundry area, kitchen, prayer room for Muslims and even an entertainment room with a karaoke set.
“You can see for yourself. Our facilities are complete. This is a big company,” said Tei.
He, however, did not allow any pictures to be taken.
How they got here
The majority of workers at Maxim were recruited by PT Sofia Sukses Sejati - an Indonesian labour agency with a registered address in Semarang, Central Java. Most of them were graduates of local vocational high schools.
According to Sundari and Denok, the agency has a cooperation with their high school to recruit fresh graduates, promising a two-year working contract in Malaysia.
Tei admitted to have paid RM2,400 to PT Sofia for every worker recruited. From the amount, RM1,800 will be deducted from the workers’ salary, at a rate of RM300 for the first six months of employment.
"I don't know what the RM2,400 is for. What is clear, we subsidise RM600 from the amount," he said.
On the surface, there appears to be nothing wrong in the manner they were recruited and later placed to work in Malaysia.
However, they were promised jobs at Kiss Produce Food Trading but later made to sign an employment contract with Maxim Birdnest - which shares the same address.
During the late night tour of Maxim’s facilities, Tei assembled about 20 workers in an air-conditioned dorm room.
When prompted by Tei, they answered almost in unison that they were well-treated and happy with their jobs.
Tei invited the reporters to interview the workers. When asked in Javanese of their working conditions, the startled workers started giggling at first but then admitted they wanted to go home.
However, one of them said, they were afraid of the fine that they must pay for breaking their two-year recruitment contract with PT Sofia.
According to the contract, any worker who returned to Indonesia before two years would have to pay a fine of up to 11 million rupiah (around RM3,600). There was also a clause allowing the company to claim the amount by seizing assets from the families of the workers.
Indonesia's Labour Placement and Protection Commission deputy director Teguh Hendro Cahyono confirmed that there is no provision for such a clause to be included in any placement contract.
Teguh also questioned the wage deductions for recruitment fees paid by Maxim to PT Sofia. "Both the Indonesian and Malaysian government forbid arbitrary wage deductions unless for purposes of tax or fines," he explained.
PT Sofia’s staff met at its office in Semarang said the company director, Windi Hiqma Ardian was unavailable to comment as she was performing her umrah in Mecca.
According to Windi’s assistant, Mayang, all wage deductions and other terms have been agreed upon by the workers before their departure.
She also confirmed that a fine will be imposed if a worker returned before the completion of her contract.
"If a worker ran away and we cannot locate her, we will find her family. When the contract was signed, their families would be present as well," said Mayang.
Maxim revises work conditions after reporters’ visit
Two memos were issued and signed by Maxim Birdnest general manager Grace Tan, two days after the reporters’ visit to the factory.
The first was to announce that effective this month, all workers will be paid a minimum wage of RM1,000, while their two-hour overtime rate was increased to RM375. The same memo also stated that the workers are entitled to eight days annual leave and their paid medical leave was increased from five days to 14 days.
For workers who wished to extend their contract beyond two years, they were offered a raise of RM200 a month and their levy would be covered by the company.
The second memo included details on revised procedure to apply for leave. It was also stated that the company will now provide transport in the event that any workers were to faint.
For Sundari and Denok, however, the new offer does not change their decision to go home.
"The first thing that I want to is to eat my mum's cooking," said Sundari.- Mkini