(Petaling Jaya, Friday): It would be a shame if the inability of Singapore and Malaysia to resolve the issue of the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) checkpoint at Tanjong Pagar railway station is to create an international incident tomorrow creating unnecessary and adverse publicity not only for Malaysia and Singapore, but also for ASEAN as a whole.
It will be the rail passengers who will be the first casualties facing all the hassles of the breakdown of talks beween the Malaysian and Singapore governments, but this international incident is not going to be good for the image of Malaysia, Singapore or ASEAN, when the worsening economic scenario despite a year-long economic crisis in the region should promote greater bilateral and regional co-operation instead of conflict.
Nobody knows what is going to happen tomorrow if the Singapore government goes ahead with its decision to move its CIQ checkpoint from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands tomorrow, with Malaysia retaining its CIQ at Tanjong Pagar.
KTMB regional manager Mohamed Duriat said north-bound passengers travelling from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur will still have to purchase their tickets and board the train from Tanjong Pagar station, and not at the Woodlands train checkpoint, as it is merely a transit stop.
Commuters will have to get off at the Woodlands Train Checkpoint (WTC) with their luggage for Singapore Customs and immigration checks, before boarding the train again to resume their journey.
But this does not seem to be the end of the hassle. The Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a statement last night referred to the "difficulties and inconvenience" which would be faced by rail passengers from tomorrow if Malaysian Immigration insists on operating from Tanjong Pagar railway station.
MHA said Malaysian officials performing immigration functions at Tanjong Pagar from tomorrow "will be acting without legal authority and contrary to the proper sequence of immigration clearance".
The MHA said the sequence of immigration clearance -- with Malaysia granting entry before Singapore gives exit clearance -- would be illogical and contrary to international practice and that Malaysian Immigration would cease to have authority at Tanjong Pagar once their Singapore counterparts are not there to lend them their authority.
"All immigration endorsements made by them on Singapore passports at Tanjong Pagar will be unauthorised and improper. Accordingly, questions of serious irregularity in the passports will arise under Singapore law," it said.
As for foreign nationals exiting Singapore by rail, they too "may face difficulties at Singapore immigration checkpoints".
The statement did not say what these "difficulties" would be, or what action Singapore Immigration would take.
The MHA statement is very legalistic, unfriendly, offensive and violates the ASEAN spirit and solidarity - especially at an era when countries are promoting free travel without visas!
It is most tragic and makes nonsense of the 31 years of ASEAN spirit and solidarity if legalistic interpretation of the "proper sequence of immigration clearance" is regarded as more important than the maintenance of good and harmonious bilateral relations between Malaysia and Singapore, who are founder ASEAN members!
This is not the time for sabre-ratting by both countries, whether by governments or citizen groups, but for good sense to prevail to avert a new round of Singapore-Malaysia tensions.
DAP wants to make three proposals to resolve the new strains in Malaysia-Singapore relations: firstly, Singapore should defer its move of its CIQ from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands to give time for an amicable settlement of the dispute; secondly, a moratorium of the war of words between the two countries; and thirdly, a mediation process to resolve the CIQ and other outstanding issues between Malaysia and Singapore.
The mediation process could be either one of the three following or
Singapore Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong should act with statesmanship
to pull back Malaysia-Singapore relations from the brink of a new escalation
of tensions and recriminations, which can do nobody any good at all and
a very bad start for ASEAN in the new millennium which is only 17 months