How the end of automated clearance system will impact Causeway crossers

Ben Tan, Malay Mail Online

The discontinuation of the Malaysia Automated Clearance System (MACS) for Singaporeans and foreigners entering Malaysia may cause added delays at both land checkpoints in Johor soon.

The reason is that come June next year, more than 550,000 Singaporean and foreign motorists registered to MACS will not be able to use the scanning device that offers a hassle-free entry to Johor.

A Johor Immigration Department spokesman confirmed that all new renewal of MACS has been suspended since June this year.

“Singaporeans and foreigners who have expired MACS stickers will have to proceed to the normal passport control counters to get their passports manually stamped for entry and exit.

“The MACS autogates will still cater to those who hold valid stickers until June next year or until notified,” said the spokesperson.

MACS uses a sticker that is embedded with a RFID chip that is attached to the passport and scanned upon entry and departure from Malaysia. This eliminates waiting time and also makes do without the Malaysian immigration passport stamps.

The system, introduced in 2010, has been developed to cater to non-Malaysian investors, business persons and professionals.

First time applicants only paid a one-off payment of SG$20 (RM58) and an annual renewal for SG$15 (RM43.50).

The system was lauded during its start as it was also during the development boom of south Johor into what is now known as the Iskandar Malaysia zone.

Congestion at checkpoints

Over the years, congestion at the Woodlands Causeway has been a constant bane for the hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who commute to Singapore for work daily.

Since its inception, MACS has been criticised for having weak security measures as well as being abused by Singaporeans and foreigners.

A source, familiar with the matter, said that there is already a substantial number of Singaporean and foreign motorists who could not renew their MACS stickers as the Singapore vendor Third Link Pte Ltd has discontinued the service as of June this year.

“This has created a hassle for these Singaporean and foreign motorists that live in Johor as they travel on a daily basis from Johor Baru to Singapore and back again.

“The Malaysian immigration passport controls are facing a slight delay due to the influx of some motorists who could not use the MACS autogates and are forced to line-up for their passports to be physically stamped,” said the source to Malay Mail recently.

The source said the MACS facility was initially one of several measures to strengthen transport connectivity to both sides of the Malaysian checkpoints along the Johor Causeway and Second Link.

“However, the system has its problems such as not having a biometric scanning system as well as being prone to abuse by Singaporeans and foreigners who travel out of Johor.

“The MACS sticker, introduced to speed up movement of commuters between Malaysia and Singapore, was not fool-proof as it has allowed multiple entries into Malaysia without proof of exiting from Singapore,” said the source, adding that it was a matter of national security as well.

In the past, the media has highlighted that the system was not fool-proof as there were no biometric thumb-scanners placed at the MACS autogates at both the border crossings.

No more hassle-free travel?

Over the years, Johor Baru has been home to a substantial number of Singaporeans who long to own landed property, especially in the upmarket areas of Horizon Hills and Bukit Indah. Most Singaporeans also drive Singapore-registered cars and enter the island republic on a daily basis for work.

Since the MACS project was introduced five years ago, more than 560,000 Singaporeans and foreign nationals with long-term employment in the island republic had applied for the MACS stickers, which allowed them quick access via autogates at two the Malaysian checkpoints.

Among them was Singaporean P. Kumar, who has bought a property and currently resides in Leisure Farm in Gelang Patah near Johor Baru.

“The discontinuation of MACS is a real problem for genuine foreigners like myself who travel in and out of Singapore on a daily basis for work.

“My MACS pass will expire in a few months and I foresee that my passport will run out of pages every few months and this will be added cost.

“This is in addition to the hassle and delay in clearing the Malaysian checkpoint at the Second Link crossing due to me having to drive through the passport control counters,” said the 53-year-old general manager.

Another Singaporean, Nur Irwan Mohammad, said he also found the move tough on him as he travels six-times a week to Singapore for work via the Johor Causeway.

However, the 34-year-old site supervisor said not all Singaporeans were well-off and used to the comforts, and citing the willingness to adapt and hard work as key to making it in Malaysia.

“At present I may have to consider buying a motorcycle just to cut my travelling time from my home in Taman Perling here to Yishun in Singapore.

“I’m quite lucky as my wife is Malaysian, while my family has also moved here for the past ten years,” he said, adding that he agrees with Kumar that their passports may run out of pages at a rate of about three to four months.

Different take, but still hopeful

However, for Singaporean entrepreneur Andrew Sia, the move to suspend MACS does not really have an effect on him.

“My work is mainly home-based and I only enter Singapore about three times a week to see my parents,” said the 42-year-old who is also married to a Malaysian wife and resides in a condominium that is about 2km away from the Johor Causeway.

However, Sia hopes that the Malaysian government can introduce a new system similar to MACS that will benefit Singaporean and also foreign home property owners in Johor.

He said such a move was necessary as Singaporeans like him have committed to purchase property in Johor and have also made the southern state their home.

Kumar also echoed Sia’s sentiments, saying that the Malaysian authorities should look at introducing a similar but better system for people like him.

“End of the day, I personally love Johor Baru as life here is good and it is still affordable, while my children can still be sent to an international school here.

“But if the situation for folks like us does not improve or gets too difficult, I’m thinking about packing-up and moving my family back to my kampung which is Singapore,” said Kumar.