HATS off to Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid who quit as chief executive officer of Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (MRT Corp) following the death of three workers in a mishap at the company’s railway construction site in Kota Da-mansara a fortnight ago.
For a while, it spelt the beginning of a new culture of responsibility and accountability we badly need in Malaysia. That is, until the resignation was rejected and put on hold by the company’s board “pending an investigation”.
In one stroke, the episode just shows quite glaringly that it is not so easy to dislodge a deep-seated habit and attitude around us. The norm has always been this: “If you quit, the pleas will somehow come saying you are still needed. On the other hand, if they want you to quit, it is you who will say why should I?” In the end nobody resigns despite somebody being at fault somewhere. And after a while, all is forgotten. It is business as usual.
Not that Azhar is at fault at all or that we want him to be out of a job. But in a major screw-up like that where lives were lost somebody must be responsible and since no one was openly owning up, the CEO took it upon himself and decided to take the fall.
It was an honourable thing to do, and, knowing how professional this accountant has always been in his career, the move turned to be so “Azhar-like” in delivering an unadulterated stinging message, firstly to his charges at MRT Corp as well as to the sub-contractors engaged directly for the job that “hey, I’m paying for your bungle”.
Secondly, by pricking conscience to the world at large and to the state of affairs around us that the buck must stop somewhere in the code of accountability. No finger-pointing, which leads to nothing.
And conscience should be well and truly pricked in those who should be accountable from numerous debacles already in the past — like the LRT extension worksite crashes that caused deaths of motorists. Did anybody ever directly own up to the liability? Did anybody take the fall and resign?
Then the fatal bus accidents. There have been a lot of talk and pledges of action in the wake of one accident after another. Do you still see buses at breakneck speed on the highways now? Did anybody get fired after the last fatal accident? No, because it is not in our culture and it is always somebody else’s fault.
The border intrusions in Eastern Sabah by bandits and terrorists fall in the same league. It happened once where lives were lost, then again and again. Holiday makers were kidnapped. Again there were pledges of action without an accountability toll.
Similarly the Selangor water crisis. Probably the reason why the problem has dragged on year after year is that no head has rolled or, alternatively, nobody has offered his head to be chopped. It has created a comfort zone of sorts. Nobody has taken full responsibility for causing misery to millions which has led frustrated consumers to coin this parody from Winston Churchill’s quote: “Never was so much water owed to so many by so few”. The same lines that came off them were “I’m not at fault, the other party is to blame”. Or, it’s the weather, knowing quite well that it rains 300 days in a year.
The same old tune when it comes to Selangor and dengue as well as Kelantan and HIV. Nobody sacked.
In sports, the old ways are distinctly as entrenched as ever. If somebody offers to resign after a failure, a cheer group would inevitably appear and ask him to reconsider. We are, oh, so full of bleeding hearts and kindness. That’s why we wallow in mediocrity at international level. The fallout from the under-achievements of the Malaysian team in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow recently is a case in point.
When the badminton coach offered to resign (that was so honourable of him), the pleas came for him to stay. When the hockey coach was “discontinued” from his ‘job, again similar calls were made for him to carry on. Then we complain that we cannot meet our quest for excellence.
When Malaysian sepak takraw fell to embarrassing depths over the years, where was the sense of honour and accountability? In football, that was the situation until recently. Even then it is left to be seen whether the cycle would continue. The familiar line that was thrown: “I have a job to complete.” How amusing.
Perhaps in all this, there is something more. Maybe accountability is not in sync with survival.
SYED NADZRI - NST Columnist 2 SEPTEMBER 2014 @ 8:11 AM