(Penang, Tuesday): Yesterday, I had said that as a patriotic Malaysian, I hoped that the new Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) would be a terrible chaos and mess on its first day of operation like the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on June 30 so that Malaysians can hold their heads high and tell the world that such chaos and mess is the order of things for the first day of operations of all international airports!
Unfortunately for Malaysia, the new Hong Kong International Airport went through its first day of operations fairly smoothly, and Malaysians must hang their heads in shame at the chaos and mess at the KLIA on June 30, which had not been fully resolved with KLIA entering its eighth day today, especially the horror story at the KLIA cargo complex with its mountainous load of rotting vegetables and fruits as well as dead fish and tortoises.
It is obvious that some of the local mass media had bent very backwards to try to present a picture of the HKIA as chaotic and messy as the KLIA on its first day of operation, but somehow, they were unable to convey the horror of a total airport management collapse at the KLIA on June 30, where every major thing went wrong!
The New Straits Times gave the headline "Computer problems mar opening of new HK airport", The Sun the headline "Frenzied start for passengers at new HK airport" while the Star gave the headline "Smooth take-off for new HK airport".
There were clearly "teething problems" on the first day of the HKIA, where baggage got diverted, flight information went missing and some planes were delayed - but as was reported, Hong Kong airport officials "said they were pleased with the opening, which suffered none of the major traumas of Malaysia’s new US$2.3 billion airport in Kuala Lumpur which opened last week".
The Minister for Transport, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik should publicly apologise to Malaysians and the international travelling public for the disgraceful first week of operations of KLIA as a result of poor planning and management and the government should stop looking for lame excuses, which only compound the disastrous first week of operations of the KLIA.
No single Minister had made as many outrageous statements in the past one week as the Transport Minister in his public relations (P.R.) exercise to try to convince Malaysians and the international travelling public that KLIA was operating at 100 per cent capacity by the fifth day last Saturday, although this is defintely not the case, even up till today.
Liong Sik is another Cabinet Minister who does not seem to realise or understand that the government must operate in a different manner in the era of Information Technology, that what the government and Ministers could get away before the pre-IT era are no more applicable today.
For instance, Liong Sik might have got away with his P.R. campaign to give the impression that everything at KLIA is operating smoothly although the truth is the reverse with tight mass media control ten years ago, but such a campaign is not feasible in the present era of information technology and it is sheer folly even to attempt such a P.R. exercise.
On Sunday, Liong Sik declared that KLIA’s reputation would not be tarnished despite the disastrous first-day chaos and mess. He said:
"People do not judge an airport over a short time. It is the performance of the airport over a long period which will be critical.
"The problems we had earlier were actually normal for a new airport. Once we get that sorted out and improve on our service and efficiency, we could build a solid reputation for this airport."
What KLIA has done is to build a "solid" notoriety in a matter of a week! Liong Sik is showing a "hazardous complacency" which will be the undoing of Malaysia, especially in the face of a protracted and worst economic crisis facing the nation. Liong Sik does not seem to have a sense of national pride. What is worse, he has no sense of national shame.
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should censure Liong Sik for his height of irresponsibility in making a mockery of himself and the country by claiming that the KLIA’s disastrous first day and first week of operations would not tarnish the reputation of KLIA or Malaysia. It is precisely such an irresponsible attitude which had made the disastrous start of operations of KLIA possible!
Yesterday, Liong Sik was back at his P.R. exercise, when he declared that all systems for passenger traffic at the KLIA were running well and that the improvement meant the cargo terminal would be able to handle perishable goods beginning Wednesday.
In the New Straits Times today, however, there is also a report of a passenger, who is a frequent traveller and writer, Joe Carlos, who arrived on a Malaysia Airlines flight from Sydney yesterday and had to wait nearly three hours for two of three pieces of luggage. He could not wait any longer for his third piece of luggage, which took another two hours to be located!
Carlos also said while the flight landed on time, the passengers were made to sit in the plane for an hour before the aerobridge was connected to the plane. The passengers were told in the plane that the person to operate the aerobridge was not around. He also complained that there were not enough signs directing passengers to take the aero-train connecting the satellite building and the baggage carousels.
Is this what Liong Sik meant by "all systems running well"?