Controversy over Malaysian firm getting Southern Asia foreign workers processing contract

Fresh from being cleared over controversial claims that it had milked from Nepalis seeking work in Malaysia since 2013, which had led to Nepal imposing an immediate ban on its nationals being sent to the Southeast Asian nation, Bestinet Sdn Bhd is back in the negative spotlight as it has supposedly been awarded a US$20 million (80 million Malaysian ringgit) contract to resume processing of foreign worker from Southearn Asia.

Sources say Bestinet stands to make millions by charging around US$250 as processing fees for each foreign worker from Nepal and Bangladesh once Malaysia reopens its borders, closed since March 2020 to contain influx of Covid-19 infections. The US$250 processing fee has been heavily criticized as it’s more than what each foreign worker gets paid monthly in Malaysia. The Nepali Times reported in 2018 that the firm has made some US$450 million from various processes, which workers from Nepal had to pay to come to Malaysia. Critics wonder just how Bestinet had managed to secure this latest award, noting the Malaysian firm seems to have had unduly strong influence into the workings of both the Nepal and Malaysian governments. Nepali Minister of Labour Gokarna Bista, who reacted to article in Nepali Times on 20 June 2018 accusing Bestinet of cheating Nepali workers going to Malaysia with exorbitant charges under the pretense of biomedical checkups, was among the first to get the axe.

Gokarna Bista was accused of having acted with impractical behavior by suspending the supply of workers to Malaysia – which provides Nepal with much needed foreign funds influx – without preparing any alternative and has since been replaced as minister by Rameswar Rai.

According to Nagariknews, Rastra Bank reported that Nepali workers in Malaysia contribute about 200 billion rupees (US$7.1 billion) every year in remittances.

Then, the Malaysia-Nepal foreign worker crisis took another turn at the end of 2018 with Nepali courts clearing Kailash Khadka, the President of Nepal Health Professional federation and Chairman of Welcare Hospital, of cheating charges related to Bestinet’s services.

The Nepalese government appealed the case to the High Court of Patan and a joint bench of judges Ramesh Pokharel and Narendra Kumar Shiwakoti also ruled against the government. Then in Malaysia, former Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran – who was part of the Pakatan Harapan administration which swept into power in 2018 on a corruption-free manifesto – cleared Bestinet of any wrongdoings in Parliament. 

He told MPs accusations made against Bestinet in 2018 were inaccurate and baseless as the ministry’s extensive investigations found no basis to link Bestinet to foreign worker exploitation and money-laundering allegations. This bare denial without any evidentiary proof also reiterated Bestinet’s controversial Foreign Worker Centralised Management System (FWCMS) was efficient and transparent.

The FWCMS is an end-to-end platform that connects all stakeholders in migrant workers management — such as employers, recruitment agents in Malaysia and source countries, governments and medical centers.

Bestinet had repeatedly stated the FWCMS managed to eliminate impersonation, paperwork, forgery, corruption and shortened waiting time in the processing of foreign worker applications – which in 2017, FWCMS was given international recognition when it won an award in the United Nations-based World Summit Awards under the government and citizen engagement category, before the Nepali controversy erupted.

The influence of Bestinet into Nepal, Malaysia and even the United Nations has made many critics wonder if its FWCMS is really as good as touted or if major kickbacks had been and continue to be taking place – as Bestinet has made its ambitions abundantly clear to have this foreign worker processing system be adopted for more countries.

The latest US$20 million Malaysian contract indicates there may be literally be no hurdles to Bestinet’s raw ambitions.

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