by Kee Thuan Chye
The Government is being hit by criticism again, and this time not just from Malaysians but foreigners as well.
Its handling of the case of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370 bound for China from Kuala Lumpur is appalling. Instead of answering questions, it is provoking people to ask even more. Is it being cagey to cover up its own embarrassment for carelessly allowing the two men using stolen passports to board the plane? Or perhaps even more?
At a press conference held last Sunday, a New York Times reporter asked the Director-General of the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, what the Malaysian authorities saw on a CCTV recording of the two impostors and the D-G replied he couldn’t disclose this because of “security reasons”. Was it really just that?
As it turned out, we were told the next day that although the stolen passports carried Italian and Austrian names, the impostors looked Asian!
It even prompted Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to hit out at immigration officers in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) for what appears a stupid blunder. “I am still puzzled how come (immigration officers) cannot think, an Italian and Austrian (passengers) but with Asian facial features,” he reportedly said.
Frankly, I was surprised he said that because it only made his own side, i.e. the Government, look awful.
After this disclosure, D-G Azharuddin was asked by the media for more information about the two impostors and whether their photographs would be released. Again, instead of being forthcoming, he hummed and hawed about the possibility of this jeopardising investigations and also that he would need to discuss it first with the investigating officers and relevant agencies.
Now his latest revelation (on Monday evening) is that the two men are black! He likens them to Mario Balotelli, the famous footballer who plays for A.C. Milan. He is a black Italian. Does this now justify why the immigration officers allowed the two men to pass through? Because when they looked at the names on the passports and then at the faces of the men, it occurred to them that there are Italians and Austrians who are black, and therefore they could answer to the names Luigi Maraldi and Christian Kozel? Were the officers fans of Balotelli?
But why has it taken Azharuddin so long to come out with this revelation? And now that he claims those two passengers are black, does it clear the air or does it make the mystery more of a mystery? Indeed, we are prompted to ask yet another question: Why then did Zahid say they had Asian faces?
Whatever it is, this still doesn’t detract from the other indication of the laxity of our airport security protocols. Interpol provides a database on stolen passports to all airports; if our immigration officers had checked that, they could have discovered that the two suspicious passengers were using those very passports. But they apparently didn’t check.
And it’s not acceptable for the Acting Transport Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, to come out and attempt to justify this crucial oversight by saying, “Do you know how many passports are reported missing to Interpol? I was told it’s 40 million.” This reflects badly on his and his government’s attitude. It shows negligence, complacency and a lack of accountability.
Ya lor, there are so many anyway, so no need to check lor. Just don’t care lah. Let them through. Tak pa, everything will be all right. Is that how it goes? But according to Interpol, it takes only seconds to verify the validity of suspicious passports from the database.
And yet when Azaharuddin was asked whether there was a lapse in security, he reportedly refused to comment. He also declined to say whether security had since been heightened at KLIA. Instead, he said that KLIA’s security was already on par with international standards.
On par with international standards? Doesn’t that sound like what Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said last year about our education system being one of the best in the world, better than those of advanced countries? If our airport security were truly so, how could those two men have got through on stolen passports? Does that not constitute a lapse in security?
Are we seeing signs of self-denial akin to those we have often seen before in the Government’s reaction to some issue or incident in the past?
Meanwhile, what will happen to the passport officials responsible for letting the two men through? Azharuddin has reportedly promised that action will be taken against them. Well, let’s see if this is not something with the same value as a Government promise. Will we finally get to see a real example of janji ditepati (promise fulfilled)?
Perhaps when all this boils over, Azharuddin will himself consider taking the honourable Japanese option. He should know what I mean by that. Look East, my man! That’s what our leaders tell us.
After all, the way Malaysia has been handling the MH370 situation has allowed the world to see how competent we are and even chide us or laugh at us.
Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble has expressed “great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol’s databases”.
He added: “If Malaysia Airlines had checked the passport details of prospective passengers against Interpol’s database, then we would … know that stolen passports were not used by any of the passengers to board that flight.” Diplomatic as that may sound, it is no less a reproof.
The Sydney Morning Herald of Australia has run a story with the headline ‘Can’t immigration officials think?’ Doesn’t this make Malaysia a laughing stock?
The magical phrase “security reasons” that our officials have been invoking to avoid divulging information has tested China’s patience. And understandably so because most of the passengers on MH370 are China nationals.
According to a New York Times report, China’s foreign minister, Wang Li, has expressed disappointment at the way the Malaysian government is handling the crisis. He told his Malaysian counterpart, Anifah Aman, “The Chinese government is treating this very seriously, and the Chinese people are extremely anxious.”
He asked Malaysia to release the latest reports, and complained that Malaysia was often refusing to answer questions because of “security reasons”.
The Global Times newspaper of China has hit out at our government and MAS. It wrote in no uncertain terms: “The Malaysian side cannot shirk its responsibilities. The initial response from Malaysia was not swift enough. There are loopholes in the work of Malaysia Airlines and security authorities. If it is due to a deadly mechanical breakdown or pilot error, then Malaysia Airlines should take the blame. If this is a terrorist attack, then the security check at the Kuala Lumpur airport and on the flight is questionable.”
Whichever it is, we are damned.
In the light of all this, what does our trusty prime minister say? “We will review all security protocols and if needed, we will enhance them if necessary, because we still do not know the cause of the incident,” said Najib Razak. Is that all?
Well, I guess that’s enough for now. After all, tak pa lah, everything will be all right in the end.
Meanwhile, we’ll just have to keep hoping and praying that everyone on board MH370 is safe and well.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.