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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Learn from MH370 tragedy

In the face of existing confusion and controversies surrounding the missing plane, presumptions and assumptions come as no solace.
COMMENT
mh370It is a foregone conclusion that the Malaysian government is inept, in just about every way. Even a crisis so baffling like the vanishing into thin air of a Boeing jet belonging to its national carrier Malaysia Airlines has not taught ruling government Barisan Nasional any lessons.
Instead, the BN ministers refuse to take stock of the situation at hand, assess it and make the most from the episode of the missing flight MH370.
Be it Defence Minister-cum Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein to Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri, none has taken cognisance of the trials and tribulations resulting from the lost Boeing plane.
Three weeks after the jetliner dropped out of sight untraced, criticism towards the Malaysian government and its agencies continue for their lack of transparency and accountability in dealing with the disappearance of flight MH370 and for causing confusion all around.
Instead of bucking up, the ruling government ministers continue to shame the country, that too at a time when the nation is at its vulnerable most.
Hishammuddin for one is adamant that Malaysia would not have handled the MH370 adversity any differently. He stands by the government’s role as the coordinator of the missing plane.
“We would not have done it in any other way or differently. Malaysia has been very consistent and transparent in its efforts to find the missing aircraft.
“Today, with emotions running high, the people’s thoughts are clouded and that is understandable,” Hishammuddin said when asked by a reporter if he would have done things differently following the scathing criticism Malaysia was facing on the decisions it had made in handling the search.
Would Hishammuddin rather the government repeat the slips and errors it made from day one when the plane was reported missing?
Malaysian immigration officials had let slip two foreigners who boarded flight MH370 on stolen passports. Any help from the International Criminal Police Organization or Interpol, was also refused.
For days, search and rescue efforts were misdirected.
Ten days after the plane was reported missing, Hishammuddin invites ‘BN only’ MPs for a briefing, excluding MPs from the opposition camp citing excuse that “they did not ask to be briefed”.
“Pakatan Rakyat MPs have been deliberately barred from a government briefing and this shows Najib’s disregard of good democratic practice and transparent government,” Padang Serai MP and PKR vice-president N Surendran had chided the Najib regime.
Learn from MH370 tragedy
Almost three weeks later, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak announces that the flight MH370 had crashed into the Southern Indian Ocean. But he said the nation would only go into mourning only when debris of the missing plane was found.
But rulers of states like Johor, Perak and Pahang went ahead and declared their respective states fly flags at half-masts.
The premier asked that the MH370 episode not be politicised. But when Najib refused to take questions after announcing key changes in search for the runaway MH370, he deliberately left open room for speculation.
Najib had announced that evidence pointed to a deliberate diversion of the flight based on the way it was turned around and flown far to the west, deviating from its original route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
But he refused to answer reporters questions, prompting Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim to take a dig at Najib.
The challenges surrounding the mysterious disappearance of MH370 seem endless. But Home Minister Ahmad Zahid found no use for hindsight when he claimed consulting a stolen passport database was simply too time consuming to be useful.
Malaysia’s refusal to cross-check via the database triggered an international terrorism probe after it was revealed that two passengers on board MH370 were using stolen passports.
Zahid’s remark has infuriated Interpol. The agency lambasted the Home Minister, saying refusing to consult the database before allowing travellers to enter the country or board planes ‘cannot be defended by falsely blaming technology or Interpol’.
“If there is any responsibility or blame for this failure, it rests solely with Malaysia’s Immigration Department,” the France-based organisation said.
Interpol said it took “just seconds to reveal whether a passport is listed, with recent tests providing results in 0.2 seconds”.
While some countries consult the database more than a hundred million times a year, “in 2014 prior to the tragic disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, Malaysia’s Immigration Department did not conduct a single check of passengers’ passports against Interpol’s databases,” the agency said.
“Had Malaysia consulted Interpol’s database, the fact that both passengers were using stolen passports would have been discovered almost instantaneously,” it added.
Malaysia, regrettably prefers to use the ‘quickest’ and ‘easiest’ way of handling matters, regardless of whether it jeopardises the nation’s security.
No room for ignorance, arrogance
Even Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri could not resist jumping onto the bandwagon of pretentious ministers when on March 26 he told Parliament that while RMAF had detected the plane, they had assumed that it was under instructions from the control tower located in Subang by virtue of it being a non-hostile aircraft.
The very next day Abdul Rahim retracted his comment, saying his statement in Parliament was “just an assumption and that it might be not accurate”.
In the face of existing confusion and controversies surrounding the missing plane, presumptions and assumptions come as no solace.
Just like when the outrageous remark made by National Service Training Council chairperson Noor Ehsanuddin Mohd Harun Narrashid who said just like the MH370 tragedy, deaths from unnatural causes at national service camps were exceptional cases.
“As an example, MH370 crash, we are sad. But the day the flight was not detected, all over the world, thousands of other planes still flew.
“Nothing stops because that is the best and safest mode of transportation. (NS) is like that, except for those cases that happen unexpectedly,” he said.
The BN MP for Kota Tinggi is wrong if he thinks he can fool the people by claiming safety issues relating to the NS programme are often sensationalised.
“We admit there are deaths. I think around 20 something, but from that number only two were due to unnatural causes. But, the rest were due to health issues,” he said, putting the blame on trainees who failed to disclose their health status.
Contrary to Noor Ehsanuddin’s wisecrack, the country’s decade-old national service training programme has gained notoriety for its racial brawls, rapes, sexual assaults, unsanitary training conditions, food poisoning and even murder.
In August last year, a trainee died due to leptospirosis which is caused by rat poisoning.
Between 2004 and 2008, a total of 339,186 youths had undergone NS training. Statistics show that as of June 2008, 17 deaths had taken place since the NS inception in 2004.
While the tragedy that has befallen flight MH370 is ‘unprecedented’, the never-ending casualties at the NS camps are due to gross abuse of authority and negligence.
This, Noor Ehsanuddin must ‘understand’ is not what parents expect.
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.

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