Report implicates Malaysian, Nepali officials in migrant worker registration ‘scam’

Screengrab of the Bestinet website  www.bestinet.com.my.
Screengrab of the Bestinet website www.bestinet.com.my.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — A Nepali news outlet has accused firm linked to former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi of extracting Rs5 billion (RM185 million) from the country’s migrant workers over the past five years.

Describing the work visa application fees as “extortionate,” Nepali Times also asserted that the country’s Labour Minister Gokarna Bista was working to undo the scheme in a local crackdown.

The firm in question is Bestinet Sdn Bhd, which previously listed former home minister Tan Sri Azmi Khalid as a director and which Nepali Times alleged was operated by a relative of Zahid.

It was awarded the exclusive contract to handle the biometric registration of foreign workers, which Malaysia made mandatory for Nepali migrant workers in 2015.

Nepali workers intending to work in Malaysia could previously register with any of the country’s employment agencies for Rs700 (RM26), following a health check at any government-approved clinic.

After the 2015 development, however, the fee rose to Rs4,500 (RM167) due to a requirement for the health screening to be conducted at one of only 39 approved centres.

“The real scam involved the lack of transparency in Malaysia and in Nepal on the choice of the private companies hired to facilitate this process, which ended up fleecing workers,” the report alleged.

“While in Malaysia the companies were partly-owned by relatives of politicians, in Nepal bureaucrats and politicians benefited from kickbacks for sanctioning the new system. Fees were added on arbitrarily, and all involved in the syndicate in the two countries divided up the profits.”

Among others, the news outlet noted that while the cost already rose over four-fold for the application screening, it was not all a prospective worker must pay.

The worker must also authorise One Stop Centre (OSC), a Malaysia-appointed firm, to arrange for the collection of documents for delivery to the country’s embassy in Kathmandu, for which it charged an additional Rs2,800.

In Malaysia, it said Bestinet also imposed a Rs3,200 fee for document scanning and fingerprinting as well as another Rs3,500 to simply make the data available online.

“Tallied together, the Malaysia government and companies backed by powerful Malay politicians have, in total, taken more than Rs5 billion from over 600,000 Nepali workers between September 2013 and April 2018.

“Nepali politicians, bureaucrats and businesses were directly colluding with their Malaysian counterparts in cheating the workers,” the news outlet alleged.

On its own country, Nepali Times alleged that a parliamentary decision to direct Malaysia to rescind the scheme was inexplicably reversed after the chair of the committee went on a “paid junket” to Australia.

It also accused Nepali Labour Minister Deepak Bohara of ignoring a report alleging overcharging in such schemes following a purported meeting with Zahid’s brother in law here in 2016.

The schemes were introduced when Barisan Nasional was still the government and Zahid was the home minister. The coalition is now in the federal opposition while the former minister is now federal opposition leader.

The allegations of extortionate fees trace back to the scheme’s introduction in 2015, but it appears the Nepali are seizing on Malaysia’s change in government to revisit the issue as evidenced by the title of the article Kleptocrats of Kathmandu and Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia has been accused of being a kleptocracy due to the ongoing 1MDB corruption scandal and the title appears designed to appeal to the spirit of reform currently sweeping the new administration.

Aside from the Nepali registration scheme, Bestinet recently had to fend off allegations that it was smuggling in Bangladeshi workers in an alleged practice that critics claimed has generated over RM2 billion in revenue over two years.

Malay Mail is awaiting Zahid and Bestinet’s responses.

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