Sacking of Thai chief meteorologist a reminder of the need for a public inquiry in Malaysia to overcome our denial syndrome to learn all the right lessons from the tsunami disaster, in particular the breakdown of the national disaster warning system
by Lim Kit Siang
(Parliament, Wednesday): Yesterday, Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra fired the Thai chief meteorologist, Suparerk Tansriratanawong and opened an investigation into why his department failed to issue a tsunami warning which might have saved thousands of lives.
The sacking of the Thai chief meteorologist is a reminder of the need for a public inquiry in to overcome our denial syndrome to learn all the right lessons from the tsunami disaster, in particular the breakdown of the national disaster warning system, probing into aspects such as why the government had failed to sound any warning of danger although it had some four hours of lead-time before the killer waves unleashed by the 9.0-magnitude Sumatra mega-earthquake hit the Malaysian coasts, and whether the 68 lives lost could have been averted or reduced to single-digit figure with a more informed, alert and resourceful system in place.
I am not suggesting that we should follow Thaksin’s example and fire the Malaysian Meteorological Services (MMS) director-general or the MMS seismology director, but the government should not shirk from its unpleasant duty to conduct a searching inquiry into the horrendous failure of the national disaster warning system, the failures in the authorities’ handling of the disaster such as radio and television failing to give Malaysians real-time information forcing them to depend on CNN and BBC to get news about what was happening in Penang and the northern coasts of Peninsular Malaysia, and the aftermath of the tsunami disaster.
Three episodes in the earthquake-tsunami catastrophe reinforce the case for a comprehensive public inquiry in Malaysia, viz:
On December 26, the Sumatra earthquake and ensuing tsunamis were “acts of God” for Sumatra, where the killer tsunamis set in within minutes but they cannot be described as “acts of God” for neighbouring countries which have more than one hour of lead time before the arrival of the killer waves, even less so for the northern coasts of Peninsular Malaysia, which had some four hours of lead-time, which made the colossal death toll most tragic as were mostly avoidable.
This itself should warrant the establishment of a public inquiry, not for any nitpicking to pin or apportion blame, but for the Malaysian government and people to learn all the right lessons from the tsunamis catastrophe.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman