Liew (centre), flanked by Mariam (on her left) and Dr Muhamad Sade, chairing the meeting on Thursday
KOTA KINABALU: Several remedial measures for implementation at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) have been proposed to prevent a recurrence of the recent incident where four Chinese tourists from Shanghai were detained in Tawau for 18 days until Dec 28 for failing to get their passports stamped on arrival at KKIA on Dec 4 last year.
The move is to clearly indicate where international arrivals should proceed to for their mandatory Immigration Entry Stamp or Endorsement upon arrival at KKIA.
These measures were raised during a meeting between the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment and an 11-member delegation from the Sabah Immigration Department, led by its Director Dato’ Dr Muhamad Sade Mohamad Amin, at the premises of the ministry on Thursday.
Present were Deputy Directors Hj Ismail Hj Ali, Hamdan Ahmat and Rafeah Ramlan.
The meeting, which was also attended by Sabah Tourism Board (STB) Chairman Ken Pan Ying On and General Manager Noredah Othman, and KKIA Airport Manager Sunif Naiman, was chaired by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew.
Liew, who is also Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, wants the removal of any “loopholes” that invariably allow tourists to make their exit from the airport without having their travel documents stamped.
The proposed measures are :
- Setting up of a trilingual Tourist Information Counter (in Bahasa Malaysia, English and Mandarin) at KKIA to facilitate communication with tourists from all over the world.
- The Sabah Immigration Department suggested that Departure Gates 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (Level 3-International) be locked when there are no passengers around to prevent tourists from wandering into the area.
- As a guidance, there should be footprint directional signage to indicate the transition from the International Arrivals area (Level 3) to the Domestic segment area, that is, the trans-border section (Level 2), using the escalator from Level 3. From the trans-border section, international tourists on transit are to proceed to the Transit Counter (also at Level 2).
- Since there are no international flights coming in between midnight and 6am, the trans-border section (Level 2) should be closed temporarily to avoid confusion.
- It was proposed that the Chinese characters on the International Arrivals and Transit signboard be enlarged to make the information more noticeable to travellers.
- KKIA Management is to engage more “Ask Me” Ambassadors (as airport ushers) for strategic placement at the KKIA, Sandakan and Tawau Airports.
“We are considering the remedial measures to avoid confusion among international tourists who are not familiar with the airport, and to ensure that the fate that befell the four Chinese nationals will not happen again.
However, should a similar incident recur in future, the Immigration authorities must inform the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Kota Kinabalu as well as the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment.”Sabah is a brand name in China.
Given an anticipated upsurge of tourists from China in view of Visit Malaysia Year 2020 (VMY2020), it is imperative that we recruit more Mandarin-speaking immigration and airport personnel,” Liew asserted.
She added that her Ministry, through the Sabah Tourism Board (STB), will conduct simple Mandarin classes for immigration and airport officials. Dr Muhamad Sade supported the proposal, saying such classes can be held in stages.
Meanwhile, the Immigration Director clarified media reports alleging that the four Chinese tourists were detained in the lockup together with criminals. “The allegation is not true. The foursome were initially placed at the Temporary Detention Centre in Tawau specifically for those who have committed immigration offences,” he said.
Briefing the Minister on the current situation, Dr Muhamad Sade said the incidence of immigration offences involving international arrivals (at KKIA, Sandakan and Tawau Airports) has been drastically reduced from 108 cases throughout 2018 to only 20 in the outgoing year (2019). “This is a positive sign that the situation is getting better and we can improve more.”
In response to Liew who queried why the four tourists were detained for 18 days, the Immigration Director said the immigration offence in question is a non-bailable one.
“Under Section 41 (1) (C) of the Immigration Act, the Immigration Department is granted 14 days for investigation, which is why detention is longer.”
The Minister expressed regret over what had happened during the Christmas season.
“What is even more regrettable is that I was informed of the incident only on Dec 24, that is, 14 days after the Shanghai tourists were arrested and detained,” she pointed out, adding that within hours, she had re-called the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Datuk William Baya, STB Chairman Ken Pan Ying On and General Manager Noredah Othman from their leave and directed them to do the needful. Pan engaged a lawyer to assist.
Noredah and STB Senior Marketing Manager Tay Shu Lan, who flew to Tawau on Dec 26, visited the foursome who had by then been moved to the Tawau Prison, pending court appearance which was deferred from Dec 23 to 31 due to the absence of a judge.
However, a special court session was convened on Dec 28 where the detainees pleaded guilty and were released accordingly.