Care Latte with the Home Minister of Malaysia:

Care Latte with the Home Minister:

Homing in on Home issues

www.wongchunwai.com

 

 

Extracts only. Sunday, 20 April 2008  

Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar is responsible for one of the most important, if not powerful, ministries in the Cabinet. Speaking to The Star’s Group Chief Editor, he talked about his tasks from heading law enforcement agencies to deciding on the role of the media, his upcoming plans for the ministry, Umno, and the country’s political outlook.

What are your plans for the Home Ministry?

Syed Hamid: The Home Ministry is the second biggest with a staff of 159,000.

  • Now we are more open to public scrutiny.
  • This is a challenging and interesting ministry and it’s close to the people’s hearts.

If you talk on matters of_

  • immigration, visas, passports,
  • the National Registration Department,
  • permanent residence
  • and citizenship status,

all are in the limelight.

A few people have spoken about our successes in implementing the delivery system.

  • One thing that is crystal clear about the Home Ministry is that things are moving very fast now, like the issuance of passports.
  • The ministry is like a ministry of “till death do us part” – from the registration of death in one section, the other section is freedom.

You are holding the portfolio of one of most powerful ministries. In the changing political scenario in Malaysia, how do you see yourself handling this portfolio?

Since Pak Lah came to power, there has been a paradigm shift.

  • We try to be more liberal and free. It’s tough. I consider it challenging because as a person who believes in due process and freedom, whatever I do, I will search my conscience first.
  • Public rallies or demonstrations create public debate and excitement. We provide the balance and we do want freedom. But we also fear the consequences if we keep on inciting and adding fuel to the fire and that will not help.
  • My thinking is that we are not going to control you (media).
No holds barred: Syed Hamid expressing his thoughts freely with Wong during the Cafe Latte Chat last week.

One way for the Government to lighten the burden of the police is by employing volunteer policemen to do simple crowd control like they do in the United Kingdom, where the community police are involved in crowd control. Can that be done here?

It’s not as simple as that. We need to get more volunteers.

We are utilising Rela and Immigration Department officers along with the police.

But many Rela officers are not well trained, as seen in several negative incidents reported in the past.

  1. We have got 500,000 Rela members.

  2. The Rela is a good concept because it is a multi-racial organisation.
  3. We now use smaller trained units, not the ordinary Rela personnel, because of a lot of complaints before this. We are giving a lot of emphasis on training.
  4. We still need a lot of public feedback on how to improve Rela.

What are you going to do about the influx of illegal foreigners in Malaysia?

Malaysia cannot take more foreign workers.

There are three million of them here and at least one million are illegal.

  • Everyone is asking for new workers to be brought in. I think it’s wrong.
  • People are complaining to me from all sides.
  • I think we must have a certain minimum wage for workers.
  • Otherwise we will continue to see foreigners as security guards, lift attendants and restaurant workers.
  • I asked (MIC president) Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu why so many young Indians are unemployed, but yet there are young barbers coming in from India?
  • Can’t you train Malaysian Indians?
  • He got angry with me.
  • The Indians have a lot of social problems because they are unemployed.
  • So why can’t we train our own people?
  • Have we actually searched enough for our own people?

Is there a timeline for these plans?

Taiwan has a population of 23 million, whereas the number of foreign workers is only 400,000, and it’s a very competitive country.

We need to look at our salary structure.

Part of the problem is also our political problem.

You must think of your country, we are our own stakeholders.

We must stick to the rules that_

  1. professional foreign workers work here for 10 years
  2. and five for unskilled workers
  3. and not more, and they should be sent back.

In Singapore it’s two years. (???WHAT? To get CITIZENSHIP, Don’t distort the facts. Don’t LIE! Or if you don’t know, don’t BLUFF) 

Sometimes these foreign workers leave their children here. We have stateless persons –people without documents – and their country of origin don’t want them back. We’re stuck. I’m addressing this. Malaysians must recognise that.

Public perception about the huge number of illegal immigrants here is it’s due to corruption and bad enforcement. What’s your take on this argument?

That is a possibility.

I’ve asked all our enforcement agencies to look for the source and kill the demand.

Otherwise we cannot succeed. We need public cooperation too.

A lot of people use shortcuts (in employing illegal foreign workers) because_

  1. they can pay low wages;
  2. they don’t have to pay Socso
  3. or EPF benefits.

The matter of tackling illegal immigration should be made a Malaysian agenda because it’s for the good of the country.

  • My ministry handles a lot of sensitive issues.
  • People see that I’m a tough person but at the same time I’m fair.
  • I’ve never taken emotions or sentiments into my decision-making process.

I also don’t have political ambitions. I’m not an Umno vice-president and I don’t seem to be aspiring for anything.

  • I’ve never considered a job as part of the party position.
  • I’m in the old school mould – I think people should recognise me for what I can do.
  • Pak Lah sees me and thinks: “This guy works hard.”
  • My wife always tells me that I’m a workaholic.

One month after the general election, the public perceive, rightly or wrongly, that Umno has not changed in the way it tackles issues.

  • Umno has not found its direction.
  • It’s still in a state of shock and there’s the infighting within the party.
  • We have produced different cultures and values.
  • I’m not surprised the public is watching with dismay the squabble in the party
  • It should be that Umno leaders are serving the public; we don’t want abuse of power and we are not corrupt.
  • When we talk about corruption, we must be whiter than white.
  • The message is to teach us a lesson.
  • The non-Malays were dissatisfied with Umno;
  • everyone is blaming Umno.

The Barisan has not come together cohesively because the component parties suffered badly.

The Pakatan Rakyat governments have introduced a lot of populist decisions. How does Umno intend to counter these with its own reforms?

Our problem is that, and in this election, there were a lot of issues that we didn’t address properly,

  • like crime,
  • tackling corruption
  • and countering allegations of bloggers, where all sort of things tend to become the truth.

The sentiment is that Umno as the biggest party has a chance to represent Malaysians. Why does it choose to talk about Malay issues only, when it can talk about Malaysian issues and represent everyone?

The game of politics is about presenting populist ideas.

  • So far I’ve not been successful in bringing forward my suggestions.
  • I’ve suggested that the Government should give this or that.
  • I’ll also suggest that the bottom 15% of the poor should receive free schooling and university scholarships.
  • I once suggested that we should have_
    • an anti-corruption body like Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption,
    • and judges should be given back their integrity and credibility.

Transcribed by ZULKIFLI RAHMAN

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