In the face of a migrant trafficking crisis with implications of official complicity, the commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has urged the government to set up a high-level task force to investigate the scandal.
Ragunath Kesavan on Sunday said allegations that fake contracts were used to get migrant worker import quotas as reported in an expose by Malaysiakini, a pioneering Selangor-based online news portal, this week was a clear indication that government officers were complicit in the fraud.
“Only a task force comprising top-ranking officials from key enforcement and regulatory agencies can effectively eradicate deeply ingrained corruption in migrant management, unimpeded,” he said, reports Malaysiakini.
“Corruption in migrant management has been festering for a long time and syndicates collecting huge sums of money from workers, forging documents to get quotas but don’t provide jobs is indicative of a serious problem at a higher level.
“We are talking about human lives – men and women – who are being trafficked into the country and, shockingly, government officials could be complicit in this alarming situation,” the Suhakam commissioner said, stressing the need for urgency to address the matter.
He added that the government should uphold human rights in line with United Nations Human Rights Council standards, as Malaysia is a member of the council.
Following the expose, Human Resources Minister V Sivakumar pledged to conduct a full investigation into the migrant quota syndicate revealed in the report.
However, Ragunath argued that the ministry lacked the necessary resources to undertake such an inquiry, reports Malaysiakini.
Bureaucracy is an excuse
The Human Resources Ministry and Home Ministry both manage migrant worker recruitment through an inscrutable process that was also red-flagged in the Auditor-General’s Report 2022, published last Wednesday.
Ragunath said, “The bureaucracy within the migrant application process only serves as a breeding ground for corruption, where unscrupulous individuals and syndicates can exploit the system for financial gain.
“Entrusting the sole responsibility to the Human Resources Ministry to resolve the migrant crisis is also impractical owing to its resource constraints.”
“It would be a challenge for the Human Resources Ministry and the Home Ministry to investigate themselves effectively,” he added.
A Malaysiakini report revealed how fake contracts purported to be worth millions of ringgit with non-existent companies were used to get quotas to import migrant workers.
In total, a syndicate obtained quotas to recruit 1,625 migrant workers via a group of six companies.
The report exposed how lax vetting by the government caused hundreds upon hundreds of workers to arrive in Malaysia only to find no jobs waiting for them.
The Nepal Embassy in Malaysia said it, too, was baffled by the lack of jobs.
The documents, having been vetted by three ministries before reaching the embassy, bore the approval of the Malaysian government – a validation the embassy said it acknowledged and trusted.
The embassy added that it had received more than 100 complaints of unpaid wages every month from this year’s arrivals alone and it is treating the cases as labour violations.
Having concluded a countrywide tour of stakeholder meetings, Ragunath said he received reports from officers who encountered documented migrant workers arriving at the airport with no employers to receive them.
“Almost daily, workers who arrive at KLIA are stranded because their employers or agents fail to show up to receive and clear them from immigration. This is a persisting challenge for the Immigration and Labour Departments,” he said.
“Who are their employers and why has no action been taken against them or the agents?” he questioned.
Last month, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail announced that the country was experiencing an oversupply of 1,20,000 migrant workers in the service sector alone.
However, he attributed the substantial oversupply to permit abuse.
Ragunath said the lack of interest in investigating the issue at a higher level, identifying shortcomings in the system, and prosecuting those responsible was disconcerting.
“In the meantime, employers who have a real need for migrant workers are kept waiting in a mire of bureaucratic processes. There needs to be a new system that will ensure transparency, accountability, and affordability,” said Ragunath.