MH370 acid test for Malaysia’s credibility


The Malay Mail

In a crisis surrounded by extraordinary circumstance, Malaysia, it seems, can do no right.

Excoriated over what was labelled an overcautious approach in handling early satellite information on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, taking days before announcing this to the world, Malaysia shared subsequent developments on the same data almost immediately.

But in quickly releasing further analysis of communication between the Boeing 777-200ER carrying 239 people and a British telecommunications satellite placing the plane in the middle of the Indian Ocean, observers said Malaysia had further highlighted the earlier delay.

“They swung the pendulum back too far the other way,” Mike Smith, a crisis-management expert at Australia-based Inside Public Relations Pty Ltd, told the Wall Street Journal.

“Malaysia needs to find some equilibrium and control, but that’s not going to happen overnight.”

In the 19 days since MH370 disappeared seemingly into thin air on March 8, Malaysia has come in for a barrage of criticism, first from the families of those on board, then by the countries — chiefly, China — whose nationals were on the flight.

Accused of being opaque, Malaysia’s representatives now recite a mantra of “a commitment to openness and transparency” each time they step in front of cameras.

While some of the denigration stemmed from how Malaysia first dealt with the crisis of the missing plane, much of it arose from the flow of information.

But the scarcity of information was not entirely intentional. During interviews in recent days, beleaguered MAS chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya pointed out that there just was not information available to share.

“Normally in incidents like this (an aviation disaster) there is always some evidence in place. We have not had any evidence until, maybe, last night (Monday night),” he said during an interview with the BBC on Tuesday.

Search efforts support Ahmad Jauhari’s point. Nearly three weeks in, nothing has been found of flight MH370 in three oceans beyond satellite imagery of debris that may possibly not even be related to the plane.

Monday night was when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced to the world that analysis of the satellite data showed MH370 “ended somewhere in the Indian Ocean”.

From not enough information, an executive with the British satellite firm that provided most of the clues in the search for MH370 suggested Malaysia might just been given too much.

“I think the Malaysian authorities have spent many days looking at the possibility of where the flight ended. I think that they have struggled with an awful lot of information, a lot of challenges,” Chris McLaughlin, senior vice-president for external affairs at Inmarsat, said during an interview with China-owned news outlet Xinhua.

McLaughlin added that Malaysia also lacked the resources that China and other superpowers have to quickly deploy to the search effort.

Yesterday, Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein who has anchored Malaysia’s public appearances over the crisis addressed the “bruising” to Malaysia’s image head on.

The minister said given the “unprecedented” circumstances of the case, other nations have conveyed to him that Malaysia has “done quite an admirable job.”

“I think history will judge us well,” he said during the daily press conference on the MH370 search efforts here yesterday.

The vitriol aimed at Malaysia has increased since it announced — cold-heartedly, some families claim — that those on board MH370 most likely perished when the plane was lost.

“I think they have made an honest attempt to try to run a very complex investigation,” McLaughlin said in the Xinhua interview.

“But people will draw their own conclusions.”