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Open letter to Prime Minister Najib Razak – K. S. Narendran

Honourable Prime Minister Mr Razak,

I write to you as a friend of the Malaysian people from a neighbouring country, and as the husband of one of the passengers of flight MH370.

It will be 2 months on May 7 since MH370 flew past radar screens and a fumbled response, and disappeared. Affected families feeding on hope have been starved of information, and those prepared to grieve and move on have been denied evidence that it is all over. The sense of loss has been compounded by anger and frustration at the lack of answers forthcoming to questions from families and media, both seeking to find clues and stitch together an acceptable explanation to the baffling saga of the plane's disappearance. Perhaps the most serious casualty second only to the loss of the plane is the severely impaired credibility of your government and the airline's handling of the crisis. The skimpy preliminary report released to the public this week, supposedly based on your guidelines, does little to enhance your government's commitment to transparency, and therefore only adds fuel to doubts, suspicion and speculations.

I have heard you speak thrice now: the first time on March 15 when you referred, among other things, to the MH370's "turn back" as a "deliberate action" by someone on the plane, then on March 24 when you delivered an unpalatable, cryptic message that MH370 had ended in the Indian Ocean, and a third time a little over a week ago – you conversed with Richard Quest and spoke of mistakes made. Each time, I experienced you as measured and sombre in a way that could be easily taken as sincere, and as a man with good intentions. You and perhaps your managers have ensured that you are statesman-like. The time has come now for you to actually be the part.

A good place to start is to go deeper into what was unprecedented and explain when the event entered unprecedented territory or proportions. This will help separate the misjudgments and negligence of your civil aviation and military establishments from very early in the MH370 saga: these we know from history have precedents and were avoidable. The rest that followed has confounded the best among experts. Therefore to invoke the lack of precedent and disclaim any direct responsibility all the way is being somewhat disingenuous.

While explanations on what happened may be necessary both for families that want answers, and for planners tasked with avoiding a recurrence, what may be necessary to consider for Malaysia's sake and for the sake of the affected families is a sincere, heartfelt apology that things have come to such a pass. I would imagine that for the wounded Malaysian pride, it will serve as a point from which to refashion a new set of commitments unto itself and people at large. For the families of passengers, it might begin a healing process and a fresh start free of rancor, accusation and suspicion.

My hypothesis is that the lack of transparency that has come to define your government's engagement with the rest of the world is because your government wants to hold on to a pretence of competence, to mask the guilt and shame of initial lapses and a fear of the scorn and contempt that may be heaped on it from round the world. The burden of this only grows. The burden of a heavy conscience will weigh on your people for a long time if you fail to own up.

A heartfelt apology to my mind is an admission of direct responsibility for a set of lapses that were entirely within the control of the government and the airline, taking responsibility for consequences of such responsibility, holding oneself publicly accountable for the conduct of the search and rescue/recovery, invoking humility to include or hand over to others who are competent in some or all parts of the investigation, and being facilitative of the families access to detailed information at every stage. No doubt there is a price to pay. It must be paid. However, an apology and an appeal for forgiveness would enhance Malaysia's standing among nations and peoples in a way that no amount of protestations or grandstanding will.

For a number of us, a lot rides on how diligently and persistently your government pursues the truth through investigation, how compassionate it is towards all the affected, and how humble and receptive it is in taking the waves of criticism from interested parties. It needs to measure up to the international benchmarks of transparency, public scrutiny and challenge, and assure the sceptical world that there is indeed no cover–up, no attempt to be creative or economical with the truth. After all, the world is watching, waiting...

I believe that the truth sometimes hurts, but always liberates. I would like to believe in man as a moral animal, for whom goodness howsoever individually defined is a worthy quality, and for whom the preference for truth prevails over the veils of shame, vanity or pride. The loss of trust I alluded to earlier threatens this, for me personally and I suspect for many others. It is disturbing to consider that self–centered deceit and duplicity to get ahead, move on, or self-preservation could be at work in the present instance.

We do need a fresh start here, Mr Prime Minister. You have a part to play in shaping what we believe in and what world we create. For us to trust you and your government, we need you too to take a leap of faith and do what is right and not just what is safe.

So cast aside the cravings and compulsions of office and try being the statesman. Malaysia will emerge stronger, and others will be willing to give it another chance in due course.

Best wishes,
K. S. Narendran. – May 7, 2014.

* K. S. Narendran's wife Chandrika Sharma was on the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 with 238 other people to Beijing when it vanished on March 8, 2014.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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