By: Jeswan Kaur
HE HAD 22 long years to make the national airline Malaysia Airlines a force to be reckoned with. Instead, the nation’s longest serving prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad turned MAS into a nightmare, allowing his cronies to milk the airline for all it was worth.
So the misfortune of MAS can be traced back to the Mahathir-era. But the former premier has little tolerance for humility.
Instead of internalising the national airline’s consistently poor performances, Mahathir once again did what he knows best – find a scapegoat to bear the burden of MAS’ misery.
This time, he assigns blame on Malaysians whom he has labelled as “stupid” – because they do not know how to manage aviation and which resulted in MAS incurring losses.
“Malaysians are stupid. They don’t know how to manage aviation,” Mahathir was quoted by news portal Malaysiakini as saying in comments over Christoph Mueller’s (pic) appointment as chief executive officer-designate of Malaysia Airlines Bhd.
Mahathir said those responsible for the losses of the ailing national carrier were now trying to make things right – and he should know better, given that Mahathir too was once in the same predicament when his blue-eyed boy Tan Sri Tajuddin Ramli plunged the carrier into the red.
Mahathir in the 1990s brought in Tajuddin to replace veteran Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman. It was then that MAS’ profitability took a nosedive.
In 2011, MAS Employees’ Union (Maseu) secretary-general Ab Malek Arif had lamented that the national carrier staff had not forgiven Mahathir for bringing Tajuddin, who owned Celcom, to helm MAS.
Ab Malek had said that once Tajuddin came on board as chairperson, MAS hit rock bottom – recording annual losses.
Tajuddin was badly affected by the 1997 Asian financial crisis and ended up selling his stake in the ailing airline to the government for RM1.79 billion – or RM8 a share – the same he paid in 2001; the company’s closing share price at the time was RM3.68.
But the flag carrier’s problems did not end there. In the years since, MAS underwent three business turnarounds at an estimated cost of nearly RM20 billion to the government.
Dr M has to stop looking for scapegoats
Still, there was little that could be done to return MAS to its former glory.
Worst yet, the national airline had a double dose of disaster this year when it lost two of its jets – the MH370 with 239 people on board that disappeared on March 8, and MH17 which was shot down over Donetsk near the Ukraine-Russia border, killing all 298 people on board on July 17.
Whilst he has taken the easy way out by pointing fingers at Malaysians for not having what it takes to make the country’s aviation industry a success story, Mahathir forgets it was he who allowed his crony to exploit MAS.
So how does that make Malaysians stupid and Dr M any cleverer?
If Mahathir is sore that a foreigner has been appointed to improve MAS’ fortunes, it is just unfortunate for time and again it has been proven that Malaysians fail to make the cut not because they are stupid but because they are greedy and like taking the easy way out.
Besides, it is leaders like Mahathir who paved the way – he had never quite had it, not when he was the premier; not as advisor to Proton, where he once asked the national car manufacturer to “close shop” due to its poor competitiveness, and not when he was adviser to state-run oil company Petronas, keeping cronyism afloat.
The 89-year-old Mahathir should take cognisance from his past mistakes and not look for short-cuts to exonerate himself.