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Glad Singapore is my home

Reading about the Singaporean who was allegedly hit and punched when he confronted an alleged corrupt immigration officer in Batam last week1 brought back memories of my visits to Medan, Indonesia in the the 1980's during the Suharto era.
On one of my visits then, while I was clearing immigration, I was told to step into a room at the Immigration checkpoint at Polonia Airport. An immigration officer said I was visiting Indonesia too frequently - my passport showed I went there once every two months in the past six months. I pointed to my relatives who were standing outside the immigration area, waiting for me.
In less than ten minutes, I was let out of the room and my passport was returned to me, duly stamped. The official merely said I could go; he did not tell me more. But, I found out later from my uncle that he had to pay S$30 to the official to secure my release from the immigration room. That amount was about one-third of an immigration officer's monthly salary in Indonesia then.
I was to learn more about this strange Indonesian custom during my frequent stays in Medan. It was an accepted part of life there, according to my uncle who had been living there for the past few decades. In my accompanied forays into town, I was to learn not to look at police officers while I was in the family car. That's because, if you caught the chap's eyes, and he signalled you to pull over, it meant he wanted money. If I recall correctly, there is a market rate, based on the type of vehicle you are in. For lorries, you had to shell out S$30, and for cars S$20. So, I tried very hard to keep my eyes out of harm's way.
The Singaporean who wrote in to the Forum Page of The Straits Times1 had said, "a higher-ranking official then took me to a room and questioned my attire. He said that wearing sandals was 'wrong' and, because of it, he would not allow me into Batam".
To me, that bore the hallmarks of the Polonia Airport incident I was a party to in the 1980's, except, this Singaporean was accosted in Batam, Indonesia in March 2005. It might seem, in the past twenty-odd years, not much has changed at the immigration checkpoints in Indonesia.
In Singapore, we take our corrupt-free civil service for granted, so much so that we are affronted when confronted by corrupt officials in other countries. These are indeed eye-opening experiences for us Singaporeans. Such experiences make me glad my home is Singapore.
Forgive me for sounding cruel, but I would say -- jolly well have more such experiences while we are overseas, either on short-work assignments or holiday trips. These experiences will help us appreciate things we take for granted in Singapore, as one such experience helped enlighten the Singaporean visitor to Batam, that "it is only now that I appreciate the orientation towards excellence in public service. A similar incident would not be allowed to happen in Singapore and, even if it did, the victim would be ensured a proper channel for redress".
To be fair to the Indonesians, we need to hear their side of the story in the Batam incident. The Straits Times has reported2 that the Batam immigration officer alleged to have assaulted the Singaporean has been reassigned while investigations continue. The Indonesian island's immigration chief was reported as having told The Straits Times he had apologised to the Singaporean's parents who are based in Indonesia.
The immigration chief was quoted as saying, "All complaints will be investigated. We have nothing to hide." Kudos to the Indonesians for taking prompt action.
1 The Straits Times 29 Mar 2005 (H6)
2 The Straits Times 5 Apr 2005 (H5)



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4 April 2005