By Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Saturday, August 27, 1994:
After three Kuala Lumpur International Airport fires in two years, the failures of DCA and Transport Ministry are not merely personal but also systemic which calls for a full shake-up and overhaul of both DCA and Transport Ministry
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, has said that the removal of Datuk Zaludin Sulong as Director-General of the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) was merely a transfer exercise and not the beginning of a progremme of reform in the department.
This is most unfortunate, for after three Kuala Lumpur International Airport fires in two years, the failures of the DCA and the Transport Ministry aare not merely personal and human, but also systemic which calls for a full shake-up and overhaul of both the DCA and the Transport Ministry if there is going to be a new works ethics and performance culture in both places.
Mahathir said that the government would continue to replace the Director-General of DCA if there is a fire, “until we find the right person”, but absolved the Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, of all responsibility and ‘guilt’ for the three Kuala Lumpur International Airport fires in two years.
While I understand that for political reasons, especially with the impending general elections, it is unthinkable for Mahathir to remove the MCA President as Transport Minister, however incompetent and irresponsible his record, such ‘indecisiveness’ on th epart of the Prime Minister will hamper his own attempt to create a culture of accountability in the government service.
Can the whole balme for the recent Subang Airport radar station fire and the farce of the ‘cover-up’ attempt be pinned solely on Zaludin Sulong?
If the Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik had not assisted in the ‘cover-up’ attempt to hide the seriousness of the Subang radar station fire on Saturday, August 13, why was there a press ‘black-out’ for two days and why did Liong Sik stay away from the scene of the fire for 60 hours when the ‘cover-up’ attempt collapsed and failed when a News Straits Times investigative report appeared on Tuesday?
If Liong Sik was uninvolved in the stuped ‘cover-up’ attempt of the airport fire, didn’t he inquire why there was no press report of such a fire for 60 hours?
Who was responsible for keeping the Prime Minister in the ‘dark’ for 60 hours about the Subang radar station fire – Liong Sik or Zaludin Sulong?
Mahathir again expressed his dissatisfaction that he did not get information about the Subang airport radar sation fire. He said: “Some said it was a small fire, some said a bush fire, whereas the airlines are suffering losses. If it is big, say it big.”
But who was responsbile for not informing the Prime Minister and trying to keep him in the ‘dark’ for hours about the third airport fire in two years – Zaludin Sulong or Liong Sik?
In a press conference a few hours before he was removed out of DCA, Zaludin Sulong said that his responsibility was to inform the Transport Minister which he did within 10 minutes after he was informed of the fire which broke out at 8.30 pm on August 13.
Unless I am convinced otherwise, I agree with Zaludin Sulong that it was his responsibility to inform the Transport Minister of the airport fire – and that it was up to the Transport Minister to inform the Prime Minister.
Why didn’t Liong Sik inform the Prime Minister of the fire until Mahathir had to read about it in an exclusive report in the New Straits Times 60 hours later on the ensuing Tuesday?
Liong Sik’s ignorance about the most elementary matters about the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the DCA is most mind-bloggling.
For instance, when it was first announced a week ago that the French firm Thomson-CSF had agreed to provide at no cost the parts to the radar control room which was badly damaged in the fire, Liong Sik was unable to give an explaination when asked by the press.
The Transport Ministry Secretary-General, Wan Awang Wan Yaacob, had to come to Liong Sik’s rescue a day later, and explained that the French firm is bound by its maintenance contract with the Government to replace the damaged parts of the RM 16.5 million terminal approach radar which was knocked out in the fire.
Liong Sik is clearly a poor and ineffective Transport Minister in failing to give full back-up to the DCA to improve the incentives and working conditions of the DCA staff
Liong Sik had asmitted that there was “some truth” in the statement by Zaludin Sulong that the performance of DCA had been undermined because it had been ‘decimated’ by the November 1992 corporatisation exercise in which almost 90 per cent of its 4,882 staff were absorbed into Malaysia Airports Bhd, resulting in critical shortage of air traffic controllers and engineers.
Liong Sik now says that the government would take steps to provide incentives such as increased allowances to retain staff and recruit qualified air traffic controllers.
The question is why Liong Sik did not give the DCA Director-General the full back-up in the past seven months to improve the working conditions of the DCA staff, and has to wait until a third fire to realise the seriousness of the problem?
Liong Sik is clearly a poor and ineffective Transport Minister who failed to provide full back-up to the Director-General of DCA to improve the incentives and working conditions of the DCA staff, and who ‘surfaces’ after an airport fire with all sorts or promises of remedy which are forgotten once the national publicity sporlight switched to other subjects.
The Malaysian public and even the world have no confidence in Long Sik as the Transport Minister and this is why Mahathir must seriously consider establishing a Cabinet Committee to assume all responsibilities of the Transport Ministry to ensure that there would not be further recurrence of transport disasters in Malaysia, whether with regard to aviation port, road or rail!