MHA says not possible to remove immigration, custom checks for departing travellers

MHA said departure checks are a "vital part of Singapore's border security".
MHA said departure checks are a "vital part of Singapore's border security".PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Republic’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Saturday (Feb 10) that it was not possible to do away with immigration and custom checks for travellers leaving Singapore. 

The ministry was responding to a proposal by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak for a single checkpoint at the Johor Causeway to improve traffic flow.

Under the proposal travellers going to Singapore would be checked at the Republic’s side, and those heading into Johor checked on the Malaysian side, he said, as reported by The Star newspaper on Saturday (Feb 10).

He said there is also a proposal to have a covered walkway along the Causeway for pedestrians.

“These are among the recommendations being looked into by a task force headed by the Deputy Prime Minister” Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, said Mr Najib as quoted by the paper at an event in Muar town, on Friday. Datuk Seri Zahid is also Malaysia’s Home Minister in charge of immigration issues.

In its response to a query from The Straits Times, MHA said “it is not possible to do away with immigration and custom checks for departing travellers”.

The ministry said the departure checks are a “vital part of Singapore’s border security strategy”.

“The Singapore government will continue to work with Malaysia to explore other practical ways to facilitate travel between Singapore and Malaysia,” MHA added. 

Mr Najib spoke on Friday about the traffic congestion at the Causeway linking Johor Baru to Woodlands, on the same day that he announced reduced levy and toll rates on the Malaysian side of the Second Link in Tuas. Toll charges at the Second Link will be reduced between 47  per cent  and 82  per cent  depending on the vehicle class, during  off peak  periods, from Tuesday. 

 

The move was meant to draw more vehicles and people away from the Causeway checkpoint.

Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Friday said the Republic will match Malaysia’s revised toll rates, and this will take effect from April 1.

Previous reports say some 300,000 people use the two land crossings between Malaysia and Singapore daily, with the Causeway recording the bulk of the travellers.

Several commuters told The Straits Times that they believe the proposal by Mr Najib may help cut down travel times, especially during festive seasons. 

IT manager Chris Wong, 35, who visits Johor Baru with his family every few weeks to buy groceries, would sometimes get caught in the jam at the Causeway. 

It can take nearly two hours to get across the Causeway on some occasions, he said. 

“Sometimes, the traffic flow would be so heavy and we would get stuck for a really long time,” added Mr Wong. “Hopefully, this move helps to improve the flow, and shorten the time to get across the Causeway.”

Others, however, expect the security checks to be more stringent. 

Marketing executive Dawn Tan, 25, said: “If the checks are more thorough, then it might not make much of a difference even if there is only a single checkpoint.”

Meanwhile, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have agreed to build a cross-border train service between Bukit Chagar in Johor Baru and Woodlands North in Singapore, which is expected to be ready by the end of 2024.

The 4km Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link is expected to help ease the Causeway congestion, as it can carry up to 10,000 passengers an hour in each direction. This means 60,000 extra commuters can cross the Causeway during peak hours.