Some said the influx of foreign workers will add to problems, especially security, social and health. The rise in number of TB (tuberculosis) cases 'brought in' by foreigners was alarming, according to the Health Ministery.
However, Zahid's brief explanation in Tawau on Saturday helped douse off the critics, although not all. There's still confusion among those who are not familiar with how the management of foreign workers is conducted.
The Home Ministry (KDN) has convened discussions with several labour source countries to issue one-way travel document in a bid to deport illegal foreign workers to their countries of origin.Of course we need to flush out the estimated 3 million illegal immigrants before bringing in the Bangladeshis.
Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the discussions were held with the countries' envoys in Malaysia, hence correcting whatever misunderstandings caused following the decision to bring in 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers to Malaysia.
"I hope non-governmental organisations or employment agencies can understand the government's aspiration and not to push the news as if an additional 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers are coming to work in the country.
"They will be brought in to replace the illegal foreign workers who will be deported to their countries of origin," he told reporters at the 5th Annual Grand Iftar with Palestinian community in Malaysia here Monday night.
The home minister said this to refute the allegation of certain quarters that the plan to bring in 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers to Malaysia in three years as inappropriate.
Ahmad Zahid said the decision to bring in the workers was aimed at meeting the demands of employers in heavy industry, construction, plantation and manufacturing sectors.
A program is being finalised to get all foreign missions of the respective nationals and agencies involved - Immigration Dept, Rela, the police, employers' association, among others - to help with the 'sending home' program.
In fact, the program has been going on since about a year ago. As at now, we have deported about 500,000 illegal immigrants back to their respective countries.
It will be an aggressive effort. The government will ensure that all illegal immigrants leave the country in the span of three years, and the intake of the 1.5 million Bangladeshis will only take place once the 'sending home' program is halfway through.
We need workers in many sectors, notably plantation, construction and services that are 'rejected' by locals. Development must go on and without skilled and semi-skilled workers, it would dampen such projects.
However, it is hoped that the ministry will engage a comprehensive approach in attending to the issue. The workers must undergo thorough medical test as to avoid contagious diseases such as TB doesnt make its way to Malaysia. We have been declared free from TB in the late 80s.
And allegations that ministers and senior government officers will lucre from the 1.5 million intake is baseless as the G to G arrangement will be conducted as transparent as it could, and no agents will be appointed to manage it.
The government is expected to collect RM3 billion in levy and other charges once the 1.5 million intake is completed. However, we also need to finance some 'sending home' of the illegal immigrants, and fullest cooperation by the public is needed.
The Cabinet has approved the intake after studying the needs and all aspects of the industry. It was not KDN's decision, and neither was Zahid.
The 'send home first, intake later' should be well conceived as a formula to drive away illegal immigrants, clear the country from security and diseases threats, and ensure a properly-managed foreign workers system for Malaysia.
Should there be hiccups, it must be addressed there and then...