by Mariam Mokhtar
QUICK TAKE: The Malaysian authorities rarely learn from their mistakes and tend to brush problems under the carpet. They do not like probing questions and scrutiny. If we are to improve, as a nation, procedures have to be tightened up and true leadership displayed.
Don’t blame only the authorities, for their slip-shod ways. Our reaction to their tardiness, is partly to blame. After the initial anger following an incident, we accept the shoddy work practices, we tolerate the lack of accountability and resign ourselves to the status quo.
If similar levels of incompetence were seen in South Korea, Japan, China or the west, public protest would have demanded sackings and criminal prosecutions. Malaysians are programmed to accept poor standards.
On March 8 2014, flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) for the six-hour flight to Beijing. It never arrived.
After 45 minutes, MH370 lost communication with base, precisely at the point of handover from air traffic controllers in KL, to those in Ho Chi Minh City.
MH370’s last known position had been detected by military radar. The plane made a sharp turn and appeared to be returning to the peninsula.
Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri said that the RMAF “assumed” that the plane had been ordered to turn back, by the civilian air traffic controllers.
A retraction of his remarks prompted more questions. Was Abdul Rahim protecting the RMAF or someone in the RMAF?
Why did the military air traffic controller fail to contact its civilian counterpart, when MH370 diverged from its flight plan?
Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein claimed that the RMAF had not sent a fighter jet to investigate because the blip on the radar was “…not deemed a hostile object.” He said, “If you’re not going to shoot it down, what’s the point of sending it (a fighter) up?”
How did Hishammuddin know that the blip was not hostile? Was it guesswork or assumption? Who said anything about shooting anything down?
Why did the radar operator not inform his superior, and seek further investigation? In other countries, enemy incursions receive a swift response.
Hishammuddin showed the same lackadaisical approach to the invasion of Sabah, in 2013, when he “assumed” that the Suluk militia were just “old men having a picnic on the beach”.
There are other unanswered questions. Why was there no communication between the military and civil aviation authorities? What procedures have been initiated for communication between the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) and military radar operators?
Chief of Armed Forces General Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin despatched ships from Lumut on the night MH370 disappeared and in the morning, sent a C-130 plane, to scout the area. What made him confident of searching this particular zone?
Chief of the RMAF General Tan Sri Rodzali Daud said that around the time of MH370’s disappearance, an unidentified plane was picked up by military radar, about 200 nautical miles northwest of Penang, in the Straits of Malacca.
So, why did Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak send rescue teams to scour the South China Sea?
If the authorities are serious about restoring public confidence, they need to change their work culture and be more transparent, less evasive, less defensive and more accommodating.
The other question which is continually avoided is the cargo manifest of MH370. Did the plane have a large consignment of mangosteens, lithium batteries or something else?