In an interview with the Straits Times (‘Lessons from an unfortunate event’, 5 Apr), MP for Nee Soon GRC Lim Wee Kiak, who is the head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, criticised Malaysia and ASEAN for their handling of the MH370 incident. Flight MH370 has been missing since 8 March 2014.
Dr Lim said, “It’s something our Malaysian counterparts could have done better in terms of communication and rolling out information.”
He also criticised Malaysia for coming up with theories to explain the missing plane:
“In the first few days, there were many conflicting reports. There’s no single spokesperson. That adds a lot of confusion and grief to family members. If Malaysia didn’t have information, they should have just said they had no information, rather than come up with theories.”
Dr Lim boasted that SIA has done a better job in media management when its planes met accidents in the past. One was SilkAir’s Flight MI185. SilkAir is a subsidiary of SIA. Flight MI185 crashed in Indonesia in 1997. The other mishap involved SIA SQ006 in Taiwan in 2000.
“If you look at what happened in the MI185 and SQ006 incidents, SIA had better media management. There was just one spokesman; at least information was clear,” he said.
The MP said that the MH370 incident revealed glaring gaps in communication among ASEAN countries.
“What I found most appalling was that the plane was in the heart of ASEAN, flying towards Vietnam in the South China Sea. Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines all nearby. How could everybody miss the plane? If the plane really made a U-turn, wouldn’t somebody’s radar have caught it?” he asked.
When pointed out that there were subsequent reports Malaysia’s radar system did pick up something, Dr Lim took the opportunity to further criticise Malaysia for wasting Singapore’s time and resources:
“If Malaysian radar had already detected the change of direction, Malaysia should have shared this information early so as not to waste precious resources from many other countries including Singapore, and more importantly, time searching the wrong areas.
It’s quite disturbing. We’re moving towards an Asean Community by next year. One of the things we talk about is an open skies policy, to encourage more air travel. If Asean can’t even have good management of airspace, a coordinated approach in sharing information, then it doesn’t present a good image to the outside world. I’m raising this issue in Parliament.”
He said that given the row with China over the South China Sea, the MH370 episode may give China a reason to say they should manage the airspace over the South China Sea.
He is of the view that MH370 incident is a missed opportunity for ASEAN to come together to show solidarity, bringing everybody’s assets together to help find the missing plane:
“There’s been speculation that countries are hiding their military capabilities. That’s sad. This is the time for you to use your assets to help someone else,” he said. “As we move towards an Asean Community in 2015, I hope the governments will see how Asean can have better coordination if similar incidents happen in future.”
He added that Typhoon Haiyan last year in the Philippines was another wasted opportunity at ASEAN cooperation. He felt that Singapore’s military force should have gone to help the Philippines rather than engage in an exercise in Australia.
He said, “Singapore contributed with humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, our military was having an exercise in Australia at the time. Perhaps, they could have swung the whole exercise up to the Philippines to assist.”
When asked about what he had done at the grassroots level in his constituency, Dr Lim was quite proud that some of his initiatives have been copied nationwide by other residents’ committees.
He said, “In 2007, instead of organising block parties, we started floor parties in my division. The People’s Association extended this initiative to the national level and showcased it as a good model for all 580 residents’ committees to follow.”
Dr Lim first ran for election in Sembawang GRC in 2006.
Just after the 2011 general election, he was controversially quoted by the Chinese press as saying:
“If the annual salary of the Minister of Information, Communication and Arts is only $500,000, it may pose some problems when he discuss policies with media CEOs who earn millions of dollars because they need not listen to the minister’s ideas and proposals. Hence, a reasonable payout will help to maintain a bit of dignity.”