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  • Aug 30, 2014
  • Updated: 8:12am
Malaysia Airlines flight 370
CommentInsight & Opinion
Flight MH370

Saga of Malaysia Airlines plane reveals officials' callous attitude to life

Kevin Rafferty says the lack of forthright disclosure, particularly on Malaysia's part, is galling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 March, 2014, 5:54pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 1:51am

The sad saga of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, supposedly flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, tells many stories of our times.

There is the mystery of what happened to the aircraft. There are large questions about the competence of the Malaysian authorities and about the roles of some other governments. There are most revealing questions about the value of human lives and the values of people and governments in trying to protect and care for human life.

Malaysia's prime minister, Najib Razak, took seven days before admitting that MH370 had flown on for seven hours after its last contact, in a different direction from the one to which it was supposed to be going.

Acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who is also minister of defence, Malaysia's public-point man in the search for the missing aircraft, had seemed all at sea, even though he is supposedly a political heavyweight and possible successor to Najib.

In too many countries, political power does not translate into competence. Malaysia's ruling party and its ruling families have maintained unbroken power for more than 50 years by gerrymandering and bullying the press and critics with the Official Secrets Act and the Internal Security Act. Sadly, the talent of the government has not grown with the riches that its rulers have amassed.

The country's gross domestic product has grown to some US$10,000 per head, twice that of Thailand and three times Indonesia's, but it is still only a fifth of Singapore's. When I started Business Times in Kuala Lumpur in 1976, we regarded ourselves as equal if not better than Singapore.

Malaysia has been run for the past 40 years for the benefit of the majority Malays, to the relative detriment of the Chinese and Indians who make up a substantial minority of the 29 million Malaysians. If Malaysia had taken a more international attitude, it might be richer than today and Hishammuddin might have been better able to answer hungry media questions.

Didn't he think that, as transport minister, it might be worth talking to himself as defence minister to ask his armed forces what their signals had picked up? Shouldn't Malaysia have immediately asked other, bigger countries in the region with powerful signals and intelligence systems for their help?

After all, a Boeing 777, even with its communications systems disabled, is much bigger than a hostile fighter or bomber, and it is hard to imagine that China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia or Australia would allow an alien aircraft into their air space without challenge.

It is a weak defence that Hishammuddin did not want to scare people with wild unproven theories. The internet has gone berserk with all sorts of theories. He could have calmed speculation with greater honesty.

Malaysian police also did no good for their reputation by manhandling grief-stricken Chinese relatives of passengers on the flight.

But Malaysia is not the only one to blame. Thailand's military admitted that it received radar blips possibly from MH370 more than 10 days before it told the world, but said, "we did not pay attention to it". Indonesia delayed overflights by search and rescue aircraft for several hours.

What did US spy trackers know? Did US newspapers get a tip about the aircraft changing course because the spy trackers did not want to tell the Malaysians directly or because the Malaysians had sat on the information?

You would have thought that a disaster like this would have prompted all the emergency services of all countries to pool their information to discover what happened to MH370 in real time or at least soon. Evidently not: so much for a world that cares about the fate of human beings.

The media cares, hovering like vultures over Hishammuddin and potential victims. But the question remains - how much time and money have been wasted because the Malaysians were not honest?

The death of any of the 239 people on board diminishes us all. We saw the same concern with the 33 miners trapped in Chile in 2010, which was followed breathlessly, moment by moment, until the miners were safely rescued.

But, every day, hundreds of people die from hunger, accident and disease that could be prevented. Every day, governments of so-called "great powers" - great in muscle but not in brain or moral sense - add to the numbers of those who die unnecessarily. US deadly drones strike innocent and guilty alike. Russia condemns hundreds to death by its support for Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad. China counts any protester as an enemy.

Perhaps only brave reporters, like Lyse Doucet of the BBC, bring people alive, not as numbers but as human beings who could make a contribution to the world. The problem is how to recognise what a human being is without waiting for a tragedy like MH370.

Kevin Rafferty, editor of HandaiGlobal, was founder-editor of Business Times in Malaysia


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This article is now closed to comments

And now India is refusing Chinese planes from searching in the Indian Ocean. Have a heart, India.
Contrary to what many people outside of Malaysia think, most Chinese in there do not want to leave Malaysia. The country is perhaps the best place on earth for Chinese. Look at the jobs we have, the wealth we have, Chinese home ownership and many more, we are indeed suppressed but there are ways around. Why would any Chinese Malaysians want to go to another country to compete with other Chinese, white and smarter people. You just need to look at the wealth gap in HK and SG to understand the point or look at how Chinese people are really treated in Australia to understand the point.
How, in your view, are Chinese people really treated in Australia?
This disaster has exposed the incompetence of Malaysian leaders to the world. Never has a country that depended so much on the minorities to fund its system be so ungrateful. The ancient barbaric system of 'strength in numbers' apply here - the ruling party are 'ruling' only due to their numbers.
It's an open secret that the leaders - how do we put it in a pc way - are dumb. Literally low IQ - listen to the content of their speeches - stoking racial themes and screaming accusations when asked penetrating questions.
Nothing less than a humiliation for the country.
Agreed, Malaysian government handling of this disaster has been dreadful, heartless and demonstrated extraordinarily weak crisis management skills. However, we will never see the military of neighbouring countries, nor even the Malaysian military, voluntarily hand over information without delays, obfuscation and careful consideration. The role of the military is to prepare and protect its nation against foreign attacks. Civilian matters are civilian.
The depth, strengths and weaknesses of a nations radar and detection capabilities are highly confidential military secrets. It is naive to think military forces will compromise secrets which could, hypothetically, give it the upper hand in a conflict (thus saving thousands or potentially millions of lives), to assist in revealing the location of 239 persons who are already likely deceased.
Australia has supposedly received help from America in locating the possible wreckage. China has been notably quiet. It's military either doesn't have strong enough radar to have detected, identified the plane just a few hours south of its borders, or it does and didn't share due to its desire to protect its military capabilities from being analysed.
We'll never know. That's the entire point of military defence.
Malaysian airlines and Malaysian government hold the responsibility for their atrocious handling of this crisis.
We pay our military to protect our borders. Until humans stop warring this won't change.
Good article on contemporary morals and duties, with a specific emphasis on human life. Well, at least the world still have a number of organizations, like the Missionaries of Charity, who do salvage human life left for dead in the streets. These organizations are operated by volunteers who give up their lives to care for other people for no reciprocal benefit, even if the peoples' own governments do not in the name of power, self-interest, national defense, or whatever.
Money, power, pleasure, and praise. Someone else has to pay for it in a secular and market-driven society.
""You would have thought that a disaster like this would have prompted all the emergency services of all countries to pool their information to discover what happened to MH370 in real time or at least soon. Evidently not: so much for a world that cares about the fate of human beings.""
Will never happen, sorry. Perhaps China (that model of care for humanity) needs to consider how much its aggressive attitude in this region has led to countries not wanting to expose the strengths and/or weaknesses of their radar and satellite systems.
While China has room for improvement, stop using the China excuse for these other countries that simply did not step up on their own. MH370 exposed these countries' strength and/or weaknesses alone. The flight has passengers from many other nations so sooner or later, the flaws with info sharing would have been exposed regardless of China. Perhaps ASEAN should consider their own rivalries and attitudes amongst themselves if we're on this train of thought.
Good article.


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