KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia has yet to fill the post of high commissioner to Singapore after six months, following the April retirement of the previous official.
Malaysia's Foreign Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said on Tuesday (Nov 10) it was "quite normal" for a foreign position to be left vacant for a while as Wisma Putra, the Malaysian foreign ministry, has to wait for the host country to complete its vetting process.
He said not having a high commissioner in Singapore has not affected the bilateral relationship.
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin was commenting on the vacant top post after the Johor government on Tuesday appealed for the position to be filled soon to better facilitate issues involving thousands of Malaysians working in the Republic.
"The process of appointing an ambassador or high commissioner involves a process of vetting, not only on the part of Malaysia but also on the part of the host country. This process, as far as Singapore is concerned, is ongoing," said Mr Hishammuddin.
"It does not become an issue and it happens in many counties. Bilaterally, we have had travel bubbles even without a High Commissioner.
"It is not that we have no qualified people but because there is a process of vetting which is beyond our control. Sometimes it is quick and sometimes it takes longer," said Mr Hishamuddin.
He spoke to the media after attending preparatory virtual meetings with his foreign counterparts ahead of the 37th Asean Summit due Nov 12 at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
The previous Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore, Datuk Zainol Rahim Zainuddin, retired in April.
Johor state works, transportation and infrastructure committee chairman Mohd Solihan Badri on Tuesday said the Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore's post has been left vacant for six months.
"Singapore has one of Malaysia's most important foreign missions as we have thousands of Malaysians staying and working there. I was taken aback when told that the position has yet to be filled. The Johor government has asked the Foreign Ministry to expedite the task of filling the vacancy," he said.
Johor officials have been pressing the Malaysian government to fully reopen the border with Singapore after seeing businesses in the southern state suffering due to the lack of Singaporean visitors. The current border arrangement between the two countries have also been cited by them as causing hardship for Malaysian workers who are keen to work in the Republic.
"The (Johor) Menteri Besar visited the border checkpoint to check on people entering the country from Singapore using the PCA (Periodic Committing Arrangement) and Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) in August and he was not updated on the issue, " Mr Solihan said.
The two countries partly reopened their border on Aug 17 under the RGL and PCA schemes.
Under the PCA, Malaysians and Singaporeans on a long-term social visit pass are allowed to travel across the border for two weeks to a month if they have stayed in the country of their employment for the past three months.
Under the RGL scheme, those residing in Singapore are allowed to enter Malaysia for a maximum 14-day stay for official or business purposes.
Mr Solihan said while all services at the high commission were still continuing, including immigration matters, it was important for Malaysia to have its top diplomat in Singapore in place.
"This is especially when it comes to handling problems involving Malaysian workers or even negotiating the border reopening with the Singapore government, " he said.