Talkative Customs officers make it easy for smugglers

Talkative Customs officers make it easy for smugglers

The driver of the Mitsubishi Triton truck rolls down the windows as he approaches the Singapore Immigration Customs Authority's checkpoint at the Woodlands Causeway.

In the back passenger cabin is a large rectangular carton, draped with a piece of black cloth. It is empty.

An Immigration officer ambles by the driver's window and takes the driver's Malaysian passport.

He walks to the rear passenger side and opens the door. In one fluid motion, he yanks off the cloth and opens the flap of the box to take a peek inside.

Satisfied that he could see no contraband, he closes the box, places the piece of cloth back neatly, closes the door, walks back to his booth, stamps the driver's passport, hands it back to him and motions him to move along.

The 5km drive to Johor is uneventful.

Once the driver reaches Johor's CIQ (Customs Immigration Quarantine) Complex, his mood is more relaxed.

After repeated runs, he knows from experience that this is going to be a cakewalk.

The Immigration checks earlier went off without a hitch. Now, the driver is at the Customs checkpoint.

He slows down and waits for the two officers manning the lane to order him to stop. But they don't. They are more engrossed in their conversation.

A nod and a wave and the driver is through.

Industry data showed that contraband and counterfeit cigarettes accounted for more than 40 per cent of the market share of cigarettes in the country.

Last year, sales in Malaysia hit RM7.03 billion, accounting for almost one per cent of the gross national product.

During the same period, 23 billion sticks of cigarettes were sold.

Of that total, almost half, amounting to 14.1 billion sticks, were illicit cigarettes.

Steps have been taken by federal and local authorities to prevent smuggling.

The steps included installing scanning machines to determine the content of containers and security ink printed on locally-manufactured cigarette packs.

However, the demand is such that current policies and security measures are buckling under the sheer volume of the trade.

Added to that is the lackadaisical attitude of some enforcement officers at the borders, as evidenced by the earlier episode.

The government's efforts to prevent the flow of illicit cigarettes will be for nought if those entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining our borders are on the take, or just can't be bothered to carry out their duties.

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