BY JENNIFER GOMEZ
Published: 18 June 2014 | Updated: 18 June 2014 10:39 AM
The Malaysian Insider
After more than 100 days since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, it is time for Putrajaya to be held accountable for the tragedy, a forum was told last night.
Veteran DAP leader Lim Kit Siang accused Putrajaya of dragging its feet in launching an inquiry to find out what actually caused the plane’s disappearance, adding that “heads should roll”.
“It’s been 101 days and time to demand accountability, heads should roll.
“And we must make it very clear that we cannot accept there will be no investigation until the plane is found,” he said at a forum to commemorate the plane’s disappearance after 100 days.
The forum, “The tragedy of MH370: Accident or human error”, was held at the Selangor Chinese Assembly hall here last night.
Lim said Putrajaya had said that any decision on whether to present a white paper to Parliament, set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) or a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), would only be made after the plane was found.
He said Putrajaya’s current position was unacceptable and called on the people to send a clear message that Malaysians expected greater accountability and a better system of governance.
Another panelist last night, constitutional law expert Tommy Thomas, made several references to local air traffic control officers and the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), the first people who should have reacted when MH370, carrying 239 passengers and crew, went missing.
But instead of local aviation officials, he said, the real heroes in the first few hours after MH370 went missing were the Vietnam air traffic controllers, who asked about MH370 six times, he said.
Thomas said Ho Chi Minh had inquired about the flight at 1.38am on March 8, when it did not enter Vietnam airspace.
“So even if the guy at the KL air traffic control was asleep, which I think is probable, he would have been awakened by that enquiry and the penny should have dropped at that point of time,” he said.
He added that even after that point, the way the Malaysian air traffic controllers conducted themselves was “laughable”.
“The Vietnamese air officers were professional and concerned throughout the early hours and we have a sleepy bunch who got some information that the plane was headed to Cambodia.
“And even then, it was Ho Chi Minh who made the effort to ask Cambodia and they were told by Cambodia ‘we don’t know what you are talking about’,” he added.
These gaps, the issue of the stolen passports and whether it was just mangosteens in the cargo hold proved that the information released around the time of the crash and on May 1, when Putrajaya released a preliminary report, were untruthful, said the lawyer.
“What is clear is that there had been a terrible omission of information,” he said.
(The preliminary report was on the steps taken by the Malaysian authorities between 1.38am and 6.14am on March 8, as well as the cargo manifest, recordings of all communication that took place between the cockpit and air traffic control, maps detailing MH370’s flight path and the likely area it ended its journey in the southern Indian Ocean).
Thomas also took issue with acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein’s answers in an interview with an Australian broadcaster, when he was asked why RMAF did not intercept the unidentified plane which appeared on its radar.
ABC’s Four Corners programme had quoted Hishammuddin as saying that Malaysia’s civil aviation authorities had called the military asking them to keep an eye on the plane but the military had allowed the plane to continue its way out to sea.
The plane was deemed not to be hostile and therefore the military did not send a plane up to investigate, the minister had said.
“If (we didn’t) shoot it down, why send it (jet up),” Hishammuddin had said.
Tommy said that the response by Hishammuddin, who is also the defence minister, was “unbelievable and was proof of how low the minister’s understanding of his office actually was”.
“If they had sent the jets up, of course even our dummies know not to shoot it if they saw it was a Malaysia Airlines plane.
“But at least if it (MH370) went down after that because it was being hijacked or if it was a suicide mission, we will know where it crashed,” he said.
He added that one cannot assume anything with an unidentified plane in a country’s airspace, adding that one had to be more guarded when it concerned a “friendly aircraft”.
“Who knows they might have come to hit the PM’s office in Putrajaya or KLCC or something,” he said to laughter from the crowd.
“It’s a massive tragedy but conducted in such a farcical manner,” he added.
Thomas also said that because the system was not honest or transparent, the integrity and truth of the information could not be accepted and gave rise to many theories.
One such theory raised by Thomas was whether there was a possibility that pilot Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah had filled up fuel for 12 hours of flying for the six-hour Beijing-bound flight.
“If he did have full fuel, would we be surprised if the record of this has disappeared?” he asked.
Similarly, Thomas also raised the possibility that the air traffic controllers could have communicated with the plane, or even with a hijacker, but added that this information could have also been erased.
Research for Social Advancement, Relevant Facts, Sparkling Analysis (REFSA) senior fellow Lam Choong Fah also found it unacceptable that the air force and defence minister kept insisting that they did not intercept the plane because it was not a hostile target.
He pointed out, however, that until today, the Malaysian authorities had not revealed its standards in determining whether an aircraft was hostile or otherwise.
“According to US FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), an aircraft is a threat if it flies through a country’s boundary without prior filing in a flight plan, of if the aircraft’s radar transponder is not in operation, and it does not maintain two-way radio contact.
“So if this happened in the US, they would have scrambled their jets,” Lam said.
He also questioned the non-existent air accident investigative bureau in Malaysia, saying that apart from countries with big aviation industries like US, UK and France, there is such a body in smaller countries like Singapore, Thailand and Mongolia.
Lam also called for the setting up of an RCI to investigate and restore the country’s reputation following flight MH370’s disappearance.
Forum participant Peter Chong, who is a close friend of Capt Zaharie Ahmad, said the tragedy should never be forgotten and efforts should continue to get to the truth.
“We need to know the truth so that the families can find some closure and to ensure this does not happen again.
“We need to rely on civil society to keep the momentum going,” he said.
An elderly Chinese man asked the panellists if those who were allegedly sleeping on the job in the early hours when MH370 went missing should be sacked.
Lim agreed that heads should roll for negligence of duty, but stressed that there must be due process such as an inquiry.
He added that this was why a PSC was necessary.
Another participant, S. Anbarasu, who claimed to have worked for MAS for over 30 years and retired last year, told the other participants present during question time that as the aviation industry was highly regulated, there was no way over 2,900kg of cargo on board MH370 could remain unidentified.
He also said that journalists were knocking on the wrong door when they demanded answers from MAS, adding instead that the airline’s only responsibility was to passengers and their kin.
“In a situation like this, the airline had to pass all the information to the government, so you should be asking them,” he said.
He added that questions should also be channelled to China, as the receiving country, what formed the 2,934kg of unidentified cargo.
He added that something was amiss with the unidentified cargo.
“Who went to China recently and even came back for a funeral and flew back there?,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s recent visit to China.
“And whenever China says something about the missing plane, on the other axis, Australia, UK and US will always disagree with it, I feel all this has got to do with that cargo.” – June 18, 2014.