JOHOR BARU: The new Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex, has regularly been featured in the media but for all the wrong reasons since it started operations on Dec 16 last year.
The new and modern RM750mil complex was supposed to be the country’s pride when it was commissioned to replace the old CIQ, nearly after 40 years.
Unfortunately from day one, the CIQ has been the subject of various complaints, such as the congestion along the two-lane short term access into the CIQ, pedestrians having to walk a long way from the CIQ to get to town, poor signages and lack of bays for buses.
There were also complaints about narrow lanes for cars, pedestrians not allowed to walk across the causeway and even dirty toilets.
Previously a person could cross the 1km causeway within 15 minutes and easily get a bus to town but now the trip will easily take about 30 to 40 minutes including a 15 minute walk through a winding 1km road to the new CIQ, then to clear immigration before a long walk to Jalan Tun Abdul Razak, where the buses usually wait.
Various questions have arisen as to why these problems were not rectified when AMPM Sdn Bhd, which won a multi-million ringgit government contract to run the complex for five years with an additional five year extension, carried out several trial runs before the opening?
Small and Medium Enterprises Association of South Johor president Teh Kee Sim did not mince his words when he said that: ”The problems haunting us now indicates that no long term or holistic planning was done before the CIQ was built in 2003.”
One possibility he highlighted was the fact that the CIQ was built to cater for a bridge across the causeway into Singapore.
Whatever the reasons, the project is now costing taxpayers millions as compensation alone for cancelling the bridge project and building of a short-term access road had almost touched RM500mil.
Each day the disgruntled voices of the people using the new CIQ seems to be getting louder especially as the complex is not only used by about 60,000 commuters daily but it also provided livelihood for hundreds of business operators in Johor Baru town.
Surely the first to feel the pinch are dozens of moneychangers, restaurant owners, hawkers and traders who peddle cigarettes along Jalan Wong Ah Fook, Jalan Ngee Heng, Jalan Siew Chin and Jalan Segget.
Some of these business folk had reported that they had lost about 60% of their daily sales.
Many businessmen are already describing the new CIQ as the “JB killer” as 50% of the traffic bypasses Johor Baru town area via the new CIQ.
The situation is expected to get worse when the Government agencies in Johor Baru start moving to the new Johor State New Administrative Centre (JSNAC) in Nusajaya, about 30km away in the coming months.
“Is the government planning to turn Johor Baru into a ghost town. How will Iskandar Malaysia be a success without JB city?,” Malaysian Indian Business Council president P. Sivakumar asked.
He added that these problems were compounding to the present strain felt by businesses in the city especially with Singapore in a technical recession.
The time has come for our leaders especially the owners of the CIQ, the federal government, to visit the CIQ and talk to the people there and gauge the problems faced by thousand of Malaysians. Many workers and students leave their homes as early as 4am to get across to ensure they are not late for work or school in Singapore.
These workers are important to the country’s economy as they bring back millions of ringgit in foreign exchange and they have a right to air their grievances.
The government should direct AMPM Sdn Bhd to get its act together and rectify problems like broken fences and keep the toilets and walkways clean. A special committee comprising experts from various fields including traffic and town planning must be formed to ensure all the problems at the CIQ is rectified and mitigated.
The government must ensure that the permanent eight-lane-bridge link from the CIQ to the causeway is done quickly to ensure there will be no bottleneck at the RM200mil short term access road, which is causing the massive jams especially during peak hours.
Effort must be made to open up the old CIQ to pedestrians to ensure the businesses in the city continue to survive and a proper taxi stand should also be built to pick up and drop passengers.
The congestion at the new CIQ could further be eased if the KTM station at the causeway is allowed to provide shuttle service to Singapore Woodlands checkpoint during peak hours.
The Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) should also play a role by working with the Johor Baru City Council to draw up plans to spruce up Johor Baru to attract more visitors.
As for operations at the causeway, the committee should look into sending immigration and customs personnel for courtesy courses on how to treat visitors with a smile as they are the frontliners welcoming visitors into Malaysia.
Effort must also be made to place the Touch & Go readers at the immigration booths, similar to Singapore, as it is inconvenient for a driver to move his car a few metres after stamping his passport and again stop to use their Touch & Go card. Many of these problems at the CIQ could easily be rectified if the people tasked with planning and operating complex resolve these problems promptly.
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