Smuggling of controlled items: Ministry roping in armed forces

THE signs are telling and statistics seem to suggest that smuggling syndicates behind leakages, which are costing the country billions, have found ways to beat the system.

The piecemeal volume of seizures from attempted smuggling in recent months has prompted the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry to rope in the armed forces to check if smugglers have moved their operations into deep forests.

One evidence that the authorities had linked to the “success” of syndicates smuggling out goods, which Malaysian taxpayers had been contributing to their subsidies, is their robust sales across the border.

The ministry’s enforcement director Datuk Mohd Roslan Mahayudin told the New Straits Times that the sale of Malaysian subsidised goods in neighbouring countries was a common sight, despite initiatives and efforts to tackle the problem.

The large gap between the value of this year’s seizures of controlled items, courtesy of operations from its enforcement partners, and last year’s was an obvious redflag to the ministry.

Up to June this year, the volume of controlled items seized was valued not even at RM1 million, when it was more than RM20 million last year.

However, Roslan said this might also be attributed to the low difference in fuel prices.

Roslan’s men had last year prevented almost RM12 million worth of controlled items, including diesel, petrol, cooking oil, liquefied petroleum gas, sugar and flour, from ending up in the hands of smugglers. The numbers this year did not look promising. As of June, they have only managed to stop about RM3 million of the goods from being smuggled out.

Roslan said he was in talks with the military on a “joint-venture” with soldiers at the borders.

Discussions, he said, were also to brief their soon-to-be partners on, among others, items that must not be allowed to leave the country.

“The armed forces concurred that there had been many occasions when their soldiers came face-to-face with smugglers along rat lanes at the Malaysian-Thai border.

“However, their focus had been more on preventing unsavoury elements from coming into the country, including drugs and weapons.

“So, what we are doing now is to help them familiarise with the list of subsidised controlled items and provide them with information on what is to be done when they encounter such cases,” he said, adding that focus would be given to the northern border and those in Kelantan, as well as the Sabah and Sarawak borders.

“Seeing our subsidised controlled items being sold openly across the Thai border is so common and the only way for us to combat this is by strengthening enforcement.

“But, we cannot do this alone. We have been collaborating with the Eastern Sabah Security Command, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and a few others… but we need more help.”

Roslan has about 2,600 enforcement officers deployed across the country to tackle a host of consumerism issues, including pricing and smuggling.

He said the ministry was focused on helping lower the people’s cost of living and that stopping misappropriation of subsidised controlled items was important.

“We are increasing our presence on the ground and we have also engaged other enforcement agencies, such as the People’s Volunteer Corps and Civil Defence Force, to help us conduct checks at certain locations, such as wet markets.

“Under the National Blue Ocean Strategy, we are now expanding our collaboration to include the Malaysian Armed Forces, which has given us their commitment to assist in efforts to curb smuggling of subsidised controlled items,” he said.

Meanwhile, Armed Forces chief General Tan Sri Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohamed Noor told the NST that he had no problems with his men assisting the ministry if that meant helping the nation plug leakages at the borders.

He, however, asked that a comprehensive guideline be drawn up to ensure smooth cooperation between the agencies. This included a clear standard operating procedure.

“The military can assist the ministry in preventing subsidised controlled items from being smuggled out… in fact, we welcome their enforcers to join us in our operations.”