Irregular movement of people across the region is an issue that must be addressed by leaders of Asean countries in order to achieve the setting up of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) by the end of the year.
06 Jul 2015 01:00 PM by Alyaa Alhadjri
ASEAN FOCUS: Irregular movement of people across the region is an issue that must be addressed by leaders of Asean countries in order to achieve the setting up of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) by the end of the year.
Malaysia, as the current Asean chairman, plays a key role in coordinating efforts to address this issue among all member countries.
National news agency Bernama quoted International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed as saying on July 2 that the formation of the AEC is expected to spur economic growth and enhance the well-being of the people, as well as reduce the development gap among the nations in the region.
“On the latest AEC development, I can bravely say that Asean had recorded a lot of successes and among them, the highest growth rate globally at an average 5.1 per cent, with per capita income of all members improving to US$4,000.
Mustapa Mohamed Mustapa Mohamed
“All levels of the community in the various sectors of the economy are also expected to feel the benefits offered by the Asean region,” Mustapa told the Dewan Negara, in response to a question from Senator Yoo Wei How.
He said Asean was also Malaysia’s largest trading partner in registering trade of RM389 billion or 27 per cent of the country’s total global trade.
“Malaysia’s exports to the Asean market in 2014 increased by 5.8 per cent to RM213.58 billion. Countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, have begun to invest in Malaysia and see the country as an important market,” he added.
Aside from trade investments, formation of the AEC will further open up opportunities for economic migrants within the region – in line with an expected increase in demand for labour.
At the same time, an over reliance on foreign labour will also present problems to receiving countries such as Malaysia, including suppressing wages and discouraging companies from pursuing new innovations to improve their operations.
Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) chairman Charles Santiago told Theantdaily that the government must conduct a study to assess the actual demand for foreign labour in Malaysia and capitalise on the workers who are already here – an estimated 2.3 million documented and close to five million undocumented workers.
The Klang MP said this process must be done before the government proceeds with bringing in the reported 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers over the next three years.
“To bring new workers in without repatriating those already here would go against calls under the 11th Malaysia Plan for local companies to reduce dependency on migrant workers,” said Charles.
He also noted that while Malaysia previously had a government-to-government arrangement with Bangladesh to bring in its citizens, the practice has been abandoned in favour of a business-to-business agreement that opens up room for exploitation of workers by middlemen.
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in response to a similar call by NGO Small and Medium Scale Entrepreneurs Association of Malaysia (Ikhlas) president Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah, had last week said that the ministry is coordinating with foreign missions in Kuala Lumpur to repatriate their citizens who have been working here illegally.
“Therefore, the matter should not be politicised… it will not be an uncontrolled dumping of foreign workers because we will take out all illegal foreign workers first before bringing in those with complete documents,” Zahid was quoted as saying.
On July 1, online portal The Malaysian Insider quoted PKR youth information chief Lee Chean Chung as claiming that IT firm Bestinet Sdn Bhd is expected to make a profit of up to RM150 million through the Foreign Workers Centralised Management System (FWCMS) – upon entry of the 1.5 million workers.
It was reported that the government had outsourced the placement process to Bestinet and Lee said the money would be collected through FWCMS which requires every foreign worker to pay RM100 to undergo a medical check-up at their country of origin.
At present, Malaysia has also been downgraded to Tier 3 in the United States government’s Trafficking In Persons report – a ranking largely attributed to our poor record in dealing with migrants who may be victims of human smuggling or human trafficking – aside from the recent influx of Rohingya refugees.
While the AEC has a positive aim of promoting a ‘borderless’ community across the region – similar to the European Union – the development gap between nations as well as domestic growth within a country will continue to be a dividing factor unless measures are taken to minimise the movement of illegal immigrants.
In this case, Mustapa may be very confident in Malaysia’s ability to lead Asean as an upcoming economic powerhouse but the bigger challenge lies in ensuring that the same “people-centred” approach is also applied to domestic policies -particularly on matters that can affect socio-economic security of a majority of Malaysians.
Comments and suggestions can reach the writer at [email protected]