(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamadís flaying of the local newspapers for "negative reports" about the chaos and mess on the first day of the commercial operations of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and the ensuing three days is doubly unfortunate, as it is a reversion to the traditional mentality of attacking the messenger rather than addressing the bad news as well as showing up a shocking inability to face up to the new challenges of an Information Technology era.
I do not agree with Mahathir that the KLIAís "technical glitches" have been blown out of all proportions by the local media. In fact, I think the local newspapers have been quite restrained in their reporting of what undoubtedly is the most disastrous first day of operations of KLIA.
On 30th June 1998, the first day of operations of the new international airport, I walked out of KLIA, dubbed "the airport of the next century" because it could not even function properly as the airport of the present. I walked out of KLIA in disgust and cancelled my flight to Penang, although I had already checked in, in protest at the chaos and mess where everything that could go wrong went wrong and the much-touted Total Airport Management System (TAMS) became Total Airport Mess System!
June 30, 1998 - the first day of operation of the RM9 billion KLIA - would stand as a day of shame for Malaysia symbolising "Malaysia Tidak Boleh"! I do not think it would be easy for find another international airport whose first day of operations is as shameful and disgraceful as the KLIA when planes were kept in a holding pattern circling KLIA for up to an hour before being allowed to land, passengers were locked in the aircraft for up to three hours because of breakdown of the aerobridge and aircraft bay allocation systems, delays of up to five hours to wait for the luggage, queues of up to 30 minutes just to buy a ticket for a taxi and queues of over two hours to get a taxi - a total of 11 to 12 wasted hours when one can fly all the way to London!
If the Mahathir thinks that the local newspapers had been guilty of "negative reporting" or "sensationalism", then lets have a full inquiry into the local reporting of the KLIA chaos and mess in the past four days as to whether there had been any untruthful, unprofessional, sensationalised or negative reporting.
When there is unredeemed bad news like the KLIA chaos and mess, where the state-of-the-art system at KLIA totally broke down, is Mahathir suggesting that the local press should not report the event at all and should be singing praises about the KLIA as "a piece of art, dedicated to beauty as well as the environment" which has not "sacrificed function" in having the "very latest in airport technology" - when in fact, the KLIA simply could not function in its core activities on its first few days of its commercial operation?
Although the Prime Minister is a fervent advocate of information technology, he does not seem to realise the full implications of the new IT era, that the local newspapers can suppress all reporting about the KLIA chaos and mess, but it will not be possible to suppress news about the KLIA chaos and mess from instantly being known in Malaysia and all over the world, whether through CNN or the Internet. In fact, the suppression of such bad news would be counter-productive as all sorts of rumours will take wings to be embraced by Malaysians denied of news and information. This will lead to an even greater crisis of credibility and information deficit in Malaysia.
Instead of flaying the local press, Mahathir should be praising the local newspapers for their reporting of the KLIA chaos and mess and to give reporters full co-operation by allowing them full access to understand and report what actually went wrong with what is dubbed to be the most sophisticated airport in the world and the "airport of the next century".
It is very disturbing that there are attempts by the authorities to downplay the magnitude of the problems faced by KLIA during the first days of its operations.
The Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik and the airport authorities said the problems of KLIA in the first days of operations were mere "teething problems". I would like to ask Liong Sik to explain what would be the "major problems" if the multiple catastrophes with the breakdown of all the essential services at the KLIA last Tuesday were merely "teething problems"!
Although Liong Sik has been claiming day by day of the improvements in the operations of the KLIA, making the claim yesterday that the KLIA was now operating at 85% capacity and showing promise of further improvement, passengers are still facing the perennial problems of no proper flight information display, inefficient check-in and gate allocation, flight delays of four to five hours, passengers locked in their aircrafts after landing because of problems with aerobridge operations, baggage delays of up to four hours, etc.
When I walked out of the KLIA on June 30, I had advised the travelling public to avoid the KLIA for the new few days if they are not to suffer great inconvenience and hardships and to wait until the KLIA can operate smoothly.
I will be taking a flight from KLIA tomorrow, which will be my first flight after I had walked out of KLIA last Tuesday, and I hope that the KLIA would have returned to 100% operational capacity - giving KLIA 48 hours to improve from Liong Sikís 85% capacity to 100% capacity tomorrow.