JOHOR BAHRU: The Johor state government is looking to install closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras and conduct on-the-ground spot checks to tackle disciplinary issues among officers working at the Johor Bahru’s Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex (CIQ).
Earlier this week, chairman of the state's Works, Infrastructure and Transport Committee Mazlan Bujang told local media he had received feedback that some officers frequently turned up late for work, resulting in immigration counters not opening on time. He added that some officers surfed on their handphones while on duty.
Congestion at the Woodlands Causeway has been a bugbear for the hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who commute to Singapore for work daily, bringing the issue to the fore during campaigning for Malaysia’s 14th general election.
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday (Jun 20), Mr Mazlan said it was important that the state government implement a "good monitoring system" to ensure these officers work efficiently.
“In the long term, we will install CCTV cameras at every immigration counter to check the efficiency of our staff, because it’s human nature to be more efficient when they are being managed right,” he said.
Besides that, he added that authorities must enforce the rule that officers are not allowed to use their mobile phones when on duty at CIQ.
"I understand that for Singapore immigration officers at Woodlands Checkpoint, it's mandatory that they leave their phones in the changing room or in a safe box when they report for duty. We should enforce this at CIQ too," he said.
Mr Mazlan added that a newly-formed task force, led by state assemblyman for Stulang Andrew Chen, will also conduct random checks to ensure that officers are on their toes when on duty.
The task force will compile a report on CIQ's inefficiencies and submit its findings to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Mr Mazlan said he had received "countless" photos from Johoreans depicting officers at the CIQ playing games or watching movies on their mobile phones, even during peak hours when the congestion is bad.
Additionally, from his discussions with agencies at CIQ, he said some immigration officers report to work late - contributing to long periods of lane closures. Furthermore, he said that some officers would disappear for long stretches while on shift.
"They have to understand the Causeway is a border crossing and how it functions has huge impact to the Johor economy, especially as it is a key entry point for tourists," he said.
"An efficient Causeway generates domestic income, and businesses earn a lot from tourism," Mr Mazlan explained.
DISCIPLINE ISSUE ONGOING "FOR DECADES"
Commuters from both sides of the Causeway have expressed support that authorities are clamping down on the issue.
Raihan Salim, a Johorean who drives into Singapore daily for work, told Channel NewsAsia that the disciplinary issue has been ongoing "for decades".
"Some immigration officers are glued to their phones, they take ages to clear our passports. And this is during evening peak hour when we've been waiting in queue for two hours," said the 46-year-old who has worked in Singapore since 1995.
Vanessa Tan, who drives to Johor regularly for groceries and shopping, said she would always check that her passport has been stamped correctly as the immigration officers at CIQ seem "inattentive".
"My husband's passport was once stamped with the wrong date, and we were held by officers on the way back in," said the 39-year-old.
Mazlan, after speaking to Johor immigration authorities, said that officers who have erred in the past have been given warning letters but many continue to commit the offences.
"Maybe under the old government these officers are complacent, but under the new government, we seem to be stricter. They (CIQ agencies) are shocked by how strict and hands-on we are.
"But I'm speaking the truth. There will be people who are sensitive about it. But we have to say it, if I don’t speak candidly, the congestion issue will not be solved," said Mazlan.
But Razali Tompang, the adminstrator for Facebook public group JB Tracer where commuters regularly update the traffic situation at the Causeway, told Channel NewsAsia that travelers also need to shoulder some blame for the slow passport clearance at CIQ.
"Many commuters never remove passport covers, hog the line, did not top up their toll cards, and they blame the officers. That's not entirely fair," said the 40-year-old professional, who has been riding his motorcycle from the Johor Bahru suburb of Larkin to his office in eastern Singapore since 2007.
Mr Razali added that the government must also consider other solutions to the congestion issue - caused by narrow lanes creating bottlenecks and maintenance works being done during peak hours.
MORE SOLUTIONS: IMPROVE LANE DESIGNS, RESTRICT MAINTENANCE WORKS TO OFF-PEAK
Mr Mazlan acknowledged that the task force will also be looking into these matters to reduce congestion, at both the Woodlands Causeway and Tuas Second Link. He said the lanes built under the previous Barisan Nasional government are placed incorrectly, as some areas do not account for the turning radius of heavy vehicles like lorries.
"When these huge vehicles take a longer time to turn at CIQ, these contribute to the jam for all vehicles," he said.
Mr Mazlan added that the task force will also recommend that maintenance works at the Causeway be restricted to off-peak hours from 11pm – 6am.
"We know that doing repair works at night is more expensive as they need to use lighting equipment but we have to consider the drawbacks of doing it in the day and the jam it causes," he said.
Mazlan stressed that the Johor state government is working hard to rectify Causeway congestion because it is "will of the people" who voted for a change in government in the recent general election.
"The new government is hands-on. Taking the lead from (Prime Minister) Tun Mahathir, we work on the ground and try to empathise with the problems our people face," he said. "I will head to CIQ myself, posing as a commuter to see what's the situation like and how it can be improved."