KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 2 – DAP’s Lim Guan Eng was among a number of lawmakers caught by surprise when Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin suddenly tabled a motion in Parliament on Malaysia’s demotion in the US’ human trafficking monitor.
The Bagan MP questioned the timing of Hamzah’s decision to table the US maintaining Malaysia in Tier 3, the lowest level of its State Department's Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, for the second year straight.
“I want to know if it's just a coincidence that on the day the American Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives in Malaysia, then only the minister feels this is a serious matter and would like to address or respond to the issue, seeing that the report is from the United States.
“If Nancy Pelosi did not visit Malaysia, would you be giving your explanation?” Lim asked Hamzah in the Dewan Rakyat this afternoon.
Opposition MPs had filed motions to debate the issue in the House last month but were repeatedly rejected by Dewan Rakyat Speaker, purportedly because they failed to show the matter was of urgent public interest.
Now that Hamzah had tabled the report, Lim requested that MPs be allowed to debate the issue.
“Since this is a major issue, until the report is suddenly passed among MPs, can you provide us space to debate the matter because this is shameful on the good name of the country? This is about people, not animals. Even some animals get treated better!
“This has to be debated in Parliament, because it is related to basic human rights,” the DAP national chairman added.
In his speech earlier today, Hamzah said his ministry’s study of Malaysia’s Tier 3 standing in the US TIP Report found the assessments to be “subjective” and open to interpretation.
He added that the assessments were made by the United States government based on dubious information it got from third parties like civil society organisations, rather than official reports provided by the Malaysian government.
“For example, in the report, it states that Malaysia does not have any shelters in the northern region of peninsular Malaysia, when the truth is, there is one shelter in Penang, and has been in operation since 2017.
“In total, Malaysia has 10 shelters for victims of human trafficking, eight under the purview of the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, while another two under NGOs,” Hamzah told the Dewan Rakyat.
He said the federal government had allocated an average of RM5 million a year for the upkeep of eight shelters under its purview since 2017, and another RM4.04 million for shelters set up by non-governmental organisations.
But Padang Rengas MP Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz replied and pointed out that it is important that the government take heed of the US TIP Report and address the root issues.
“What's important is that we are in Tier 3 not because we treat people badly. It is because of the foreign workers who come to our country. If it was not for them, maybe we would not be from Tier 3,” the backbencher said.
Nazri, who is a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, said it had made its own assessment of the TIP and found that the way foreign workers were brought into the country were the main reason Malaysia remains on the lowest tier.
“It is the way we bring in foreign workers. This is why we are on Tier 3. This is what we see, that the system itself is one of the biggest contributors to human trafficking,” he said.
Former human resources minister M. Kulasegaran said the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration tried to amend the laws to curb human trafficking, but added that the efforts stopped because of the collapse of government in February 2020.
“When we were the government, we met with NGOs and the US ambassador, where many suggestions were made. We made follow up steps, of which one of them was to amend the Employment Act 1955.
“We have finished 99 per cent of the amendment, but it was delayed from being brought to Parliament, for more than two years. This is because Barisan Nasional took over from PH.
“This delay is one of the reasons why we are still in Tier 3,” the Ipoh Barat MP said.
On July 20, the US State Department’s annual human trafficking report said the government did not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the country’s anti-trafficking capacity.
Malaysia was placed on the Tier 2 Watchlist from 2018 to 2020 before dropping to Tier 3, the lowest tier, last year.
The US State Department places each country into one of three tiers based on the extent of government action to combat trafficking and on the size of the problem.
A Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has acknowledged the existence of human trafficking and has made efforts to address the problem. Tier 2 countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the US Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
Tier 3 countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.