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Information on crisis too little, too late
Publication Date : 14-03-2013
When Russian ambassador to Malaysia Lyudmilla G. Vorobyeva was invited to deliver her remarks at a dialogue between Miti and foreign ambassadors and business councils last week, she confessed that she was asked by the host to “criticise” Malaysia.
“I was told to criticise Malaysia. But I am afraid I will be ‘persona non grata’. I like Malaysia,” she said tongue-in-cheek to members of the audience, including host International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.
Vorobyeva, who represented the diplomatic corps, chose to speak about the obstacles faced by businessmen from her country, listing the lack of information on the opportunities and potentials available.
This is the first time representatives from the diplomatic corps and business councils were invited to share their experiences of doing business in Malaysia.
The annual dialogue, an initiative started by Mustapa, is one of many regularly organised ones by Miti to engage with the various sectors, updating them on the current economic situation and the Government’s views on related issues.
Mustapa is one minister best described as a walking encyclopaedia when it comes to Miti matters.
Those working with Mustapa find him hard working, in fact too hard.
“He is meticulous. As officers, we will give the technical details but Mustapa is good at seeing the big picture,” said an official.
One cannot help but compare Miti’s robust engagement with work done by other government agencies.
A recent case is the agreement to appoint Malaysia as the facilitator for peace talks between the Thai government and insurgents in southern Thailand.
The Thai media had been reporting on the matter at least two weeks before Thai leader Yingluck Shinawatra arrived in Kuala Lumpur on February 28 for her annual consultation with Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Coming on the heels of Malaysia’s role in the southern Philippine peace process, the Malaysian authorities’ media handling of the Thai leader’s visit and the significance of what was about to be announced left a lot to be desired.
The local media did not receive an invitation to the signing ceremony to launch the peace talks at Pulapol, which took place just hours before the two leaders met.
All this happened while the media was still struggling to get more information on the standoff in Lahad Datu.
It all started on February 13 when Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told the media that a group of men in army fatigues had landed in Lahad Datu and that the Defence Forces chief will issue a statement.
The media went into a frenzy looking for an official confirmation, which eventually came that evening from the Inspector-General of Police.
Granted, many details about the incursion could not be released as it could jeopardise operations by the security forces. But coordination among the government agencies whose cooperation the media requires could, and should, have been better.
With little information trickling in, one could be forgiven for asking who was actually in charge.
“It is like everybody is not sure what to do and who should take responsibility to disseminate information,” said an official familiar with government dealings.
It was only in the third week of the standoff, after our men were mercilessly killed by the intruders, that information started coming in.
Finally, there was some semblance of coordination among the agencies. The media was given a daily briefing on the latest situation on the ground.
It appeared as if Manila had the upper hand when it came to dealing with the media. There seems to be a coordinated response from the president right down to the ministers and the palace spokesman.
Over in Kuala Lumpur, the initial vacuum in the flow of adequate information on the developing situation during the first two weeks gave rise to questions about the level of coordination among the related government agencies.
All this only opened the door to criticisms of a media blackout, which is not true but could have been avoided if the media had been kept in the loop.
Kudos to the police and military for their joint efforts to keep the media updated on the situation in Sabah. However, a post-mortem must be conducted on what went wrong once the crisis in Lahad Datu is resolved.
Miti’s efforts to engage many parties may seem trivial in the face of the troubles in Sabah, but for those working in disseminating information in a world of fast news breaks, hopefully they will learn a thing or two from this episode.