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People usually are quite apprehensive when they go through custom checks at entry points anywhere in the world. They become more tense if they are bringing in contraband items. I have had experiences with customs in foreign countries such as the UK, Europe, UAE and Indonesia during my extensive travels. Things were however a breeze when I travelled on International Agency business.

Now years ago I returned through the Johor Causeway with my friend, PC who was a Medical Officer at the JB hospital. He bought a small rice cooker in Singapore for his own use in the Doctors’ Mess. The custom officer insisted that he pay for the tax of RM20 despite PC saying that it was not for sale. The officer was quite arrogant in administering his power. My friend ended up paying the miserable tax and cursing all the way home as it was cheaper to buy locally. It was poetic justice as about one month later the same customs officer came to the hospital with his wife who had a massive bleeding due to pregnancy outside the womb according to PC who was the attending doctor on duty.

Another time, also years back, I returned from Europe with lots of chocolate for friends and relatives and there at our international airport I was told to pay tax on it for some petty amount. I was beginning to feel that our customs officers were being efficient and performing their work well generating revenue for our beloved country. Excellence indeed!

Later I found out if you know any of the officers you could bring in anything. A group of us went on a study tour in Singapore and we bought a lot of textiles and other dutiable goods. One of the group member’s father worked at Subang airport ( in late 1970s) so when we arrived, there was hardly an inspection. Standing across the barrier was the member’s father. Ahah… I thought of my friend’s tiny rice cooker and my miserable chocolates being taxed because we did not know anyone, not that I regretted paying in my case.

My latest encounter with customs was just a year back when I had to claim an unaccompanied bag sent from Heathrow in London. The bag was an excess baggage. I would have to pay an extra GBP200 (RM1060 then) if I were to take it with me on the plane. It arrived almost three weeks after my arrival and I had to go to the airline cargo section to get it. I thought it was one easy transaction. Well I met a young tudung-clad female custom officer who told me to get an agent to process the bag retrieval for me. I politely told her that this was not a business transaction and that I was not importing anything new it was only used personal effects, I could do it myself. Poker-faced, she did not flinch.

Suffice to say an agent promptly appeared and he took my forms and walked here and there, getting busy as if it was so bloody difficult to get the bag out while I could see my distinctive bag lying on the floor next to some wooden racks beyond the counter separating me and the custom officer. The agent fellow finally came back to me and said I had to pay RM150. I immediately protested and told him where I worked in case one day he should land on my turf and so he reduced it to RM100. I mentioned casually that he could be sharing the money with the customs people and he just smiled as if saying “biasalah tu cari makan ” ( that is normal for our livelihood)….. Gosh! I wish I could lie to to the agent and that female officer that I work in MACC! See, you can bargain one…just like traffic police fines. Ask anyone who “sudah kena” (have suffered).

I felt disgusted and somehow ashamed to even mention about this “small matter” to anyone not even my better half. If possible I want to keep away from these low-down blood-suckers. The system at the custom in this location stinks and reeks of corrupt practices. Chief Secretary to the government and Royal Malaysian Custom Director General please take note.

What are my small encounters compared to the billion Ringgit loss to our country through dirty Custom officers? You ask me.

It is long overdue that we stamp out this scourge in our society. It looks like corruption has become a culture in this country. And the politicians do not seem concern as they do not usually, for example, have to reclaim excess baggage from the customs or have encounters with rogue traffic policemen. How would they ever know the hardship the ordinary powerless rakyat have to endure? If only all the rakyat get together and vote these buggers out in the next general election!

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