Entry fee hike tests M’sia-S’pore ties

THE Lion City seems to have unwittingly stoked Malaysians' latent spirit of nationalism by unilaterally raising vehicle entry permit (VEP) fees for foreign vehicles entering the republic.

The angry reaction from this side of the Causeway to the announcement is ample evidence of this.

This was further demonstrated by the quid pro quo moves from Malaysian authorities. However, that is another story.

The hefty fee hike has sparked a furore not seen for some time. And it is telling that this is happening at a time when Malaysia-Singapore relations are at its best. Really?

Well, for one thing, friends don't rush into making one-sided decisions that have far reaching ramifications on the neighbour.

Don't forget, Singapore gave just two weeks' notice before the new rates came into effect on Aug 1.

Second, if we do indeed enjoy a "special relationship", as claimed by both our leaders, then why was there no consultation on this manifestly important issue?

What has happened to the "people of goodwill" on both sides of the border, who previously took pains to consult, deliberate and agree on any issue that impacted cross-border ties?

Like true friends, we used to talk things over in the true spirit of bilateral friendship before implementing any manoeuvres that risk upsetting our delicate balance.

But alas! Unfortunately, in the context of Singapore today, it is almost always only about "I, me and myself" and damned thy neighbour.

Such covetousness is unbecoming, especially since Singapore is hugely dependent on Malaysian labour to help keep its economy running.

The numbers range anything between 60,000 and 100,000 daily … men and women who leave their homes as early as 4am, and often spend up to two hours stuck on the notorious Causeway Crawl, before barely making it on time to clock in for work in Singapore.

Their contribution to the Singapore economy is enormous. The VEP fees aside, they also pay toll (electronic road pricing), parking fees, sky-high prices for Singapore-registered cars and motorcycles, food and of course local taxes.

A huge chunk of their earnings are also siphoned into the Central Provident Fund, where it is kept in abeyance until they reach 65.

Hypothetically, should all these workers decide to take a "day of rest" and refuse to turn up for work as a protest against the steep VEP fee hikes, Singapore would be in big trouble.

Singapore, of course, would deem this as an "act of aggression". But the fact remains that the impact of such a move on the Singapore workplace would be devastating.

This is because Malaysians have stamped their mark in almost all sectors of their economy – from manufacturing to logistics, services sector to banking and finance, and construction to shipbuilding.

Even in the Republic of Singapore Civil Service, there are many senior teachers, doctors; police, prison and military officers who are Malaysians.

Hence, it begs the question – why is Singapore so bent on making it difficult and ridiculously expensive for Malaysians to cross the border to work in the island?

What really is their intent in imposing the massive increase in VEP rates – is it to squeeze even more money from the captive pool of Malaysian workers? Is it to restrict and control the entry of Malaysian vehicles from infesting their squeaky clean roads? Or, is it simply a manifestation of their dislike for Malaysians?

This doesn't make sense at all because instead of making the daily border crossing hassle free and smooth for these workers, which Singapore is heavily reliant upon, the republic appears to be putting even more hurdles along the way.

The problem is compounded by the strict immigration and customs checks at Woodlands and Tuas – done in the name of national security – which needlessly holds up traffic for hours.

But these are not casual visitors, but daily commuters whose only reason to enter Singapore is to work and to get out immediately at the end of the day.

Why can't special ID cards be issued for easy and fast border crossing instead of using their worn-out passports?

What about other simple solutions like water taxi services or improved KTM commuter services during peak hours to mitigate the chronic perpetual jams on the Causeway and 2nd Link?

Instead, all we keep hearing about are even more grandiose projects like the multi-billion ringgit High Speed Rail and MRT extension to JB. Now, there is even talk of building a new third crossing?

How can these projects take off when we are not even talking any more to find smooth and effective new ways to move people and goods across our borders?

Malaysians who choose to earn a living in Singapore are not robots but people. They contribute to the economy on both sides of the border.

Instead of being grateful and appreciating their services, let us not make life difficult for them. Is that too much to ask, Singapore?

Roy, a long-time resident of JB, is a keen watcher of economic, political and social trends on both sides of the Johor Straits. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com