Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Irene Fernandez to face MACC over remarks in Indonesian paper

PETALING JAYA, May 9 — Activist Irene Fernandez, who came under heavy fire for criticising Malaysia’s treatment of migrant workers in a Jakarta daily, has been hauled up by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for an “interview” on Friday.

The Tenaganita executive director told a press conference here that the MACC had faxed a letter to the organisation’s office yesterday, saying they viewed “seriously” reports of statements attributed to her during a recent interview with The Jakarta Post.

But while Fernandez said she would willingly offer her statements to the graftbusting agency, she stressed that she would not back down from her stand that Malaysia continues to be a “completely” unsafe environment for Indonesian workers.

The activist, who was once jailed for exposing the allegedly poor conditions at local immigration centres, also refused to apologise for her statements, demanding instead that the government and her critics apologise to her.

Fernandez insisted that her remarks, which were carried by the Indonesian newspaper on Monday, despite painting Malaysia in a negative light, were not unpatriotic and would not be detrimental to Malaysia’s bilateral relations with Indonesia.

“Why should I apologise? My statement is the truth. It would not be right for me to apologise. I am not wrong.

“In fact, the government should apologise to me. Anyone who says that I am traitor or unpatriotic should apologise to me and Tenaganita,” she told reporters at the movement’s headquarters in Jalan Gasing here.

Fernandez added, however, that The Jakarta Post has agreed to print a correction to its Monday article, as it had contained several statements that she had not made during the interview.

These statements include an accusation, attributed to Fernandez, that some Malaysian employers have continued to act with impunity and resorted to “paying the police” or “buying court verdicts” to ensure no action is taken against them.

“I did not make any statements about employers ‘paying the police’ or ‘buying court verdicts’. My statement said that employers tend to act with impunity,” she corrected in her email to the republic’s English daily.

Fernandez was also reported as accusing employers of breaching immigration laws by employing undocumented workers, and that these escape punishment by allegedly colluding with the authorities to ensure the blame rests on the workers.

She also corrected this, asserting she had only said that undocumented workers are often the ones punished, that their rights go unrecognised and their employers get away with exploiting them.

Other corrections include further changes and one retraction of statistics carried by Jakarta daily as well as Fernandez’s allegation of discrimination by the Malaysian government in excluding domestic workers and gardeners from its new wage floor policy. The daily had reported her as saying “housemaids and plantation workers”.

But apart from the corrections, Fernandez did not dispute her reported declaration of Malaysia as “completely” unsafe in the daily or her view that the Indonesian government should not resume sending domestic workers to Malaysia until the government here agrees to a bilateral agreement that protects the rights of migrant workers.

“Indonesian government should not resume sending workers to Malaysia until the government and employers change their mindsets and make a particular law to protect them and their rights,” she was quoted as saying in the daily.

Fernandez had also said that Malaysia has no legal framework or specific law to protect workers, claiming that these migrant workers have been turned into objects of “exploitation, physical abuse, violence and rape”.

She told today’s press conference that while she was “not surprised” at being hauled up to face the MACC, the agency should instead be concentrating on the alleged corruption occurring within Malaysia’s Immigration Department regarding the intake of migrant workers.

Fernandez also lobbed the term “arrogant”, which was used on her, back at the government and pointed out that it was “shameful” that the administration had failed to act efficiently against years of reports on the abuses towards workers’ rights, or adopt policies suggested in Tenaganita’s memorandum submitted some four years back.

“We should not need to repeat ourselves so many times,” she said.

“We have been placed under the US Human Trafficking report... is that not simply shameful? And the fact that two countries have frozen the recruitment of employment here?

“It (my statements) would not tarnish the image of Malaysia. It is our responsibility as an organisation to raise these matters to ensure that corrections are done in the system,” she said.

Fernandez also slammed Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Maznah Mazlan for criticising her remarks and asked the latter if she was aware of cases of domestic help being made to sleep in storerooms, below staircases and of those who were not properly fed and are malnourished.

She will meet with MACC officials at its Putrajaya headquarters at 10am on Friday.

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