The Final Curtain?

Another former Minister has spoken out at Najib Razak’s apparent use of Anwar Ibrahim to attack his opponents. Former Minister, Sanusi Junid, has hinted that if Najib does not step down now, UMNO and BN will suffer.

Anwar, who has been in TV3’s bad books, and who also issued a general ban on broadcast journalists from that station to cover any of his or PKR’s events, has been given full attention by the station to lambast Najib’s opponents within UMNO.

Najib, who took over the helm of both UMNO and BN from a weak predecessor, is seen by the public as a weaker Prime Minister. That the BN fared as bad as or worse than GE12 in the last general elections says a lot about his leadership. While he does try to have a hands-on approach on many things which is good, his policies and decisions made seem to lack any prior thoughts, begging the public to ask if it is really Najib’s consultants who do the thinking while Najib just read the scripts and smile or frown as directed.

I, for one, don’t give much thought on the political squabbles. I am more concerned with those who incessantly try to run down the country; but this latest tiff between Najib and his critiques started off with the 1MDB fiasco, and it seems that someone has unearthed the leadership’s Pandora Box.

Who after Najib is none of my concern. Whoever commands majority support of UMNO with the blessing of the component parties in BN should be able to lead. However, the UMNO tradition (budaya) of never to shine before your leader does ought to be done away with. I was told that during the recent floods, although the Deputy Prime Minister was in town while many including the Prime Minister were away shopping or golfing abroad, the former did not act swiftly until instructed to do so. How true this is, I don’t know but if so, it truly is damaging that you cannot decide as a Deputy Prime Minister on behalf of the Prime Minister who was away golfing. “Mana boleh! Ini budaya UMNO!” said the person to my father when asked why did the Deputy Prime Minister not act since the Prime Minister was on holiday abroad.

Najib could easily have called for an impromptu press conference to announce that the DPM was to head the disaster management team while he had to golf with Obama to discuss pressing matters. There was a whole army of foreign press there that he could have used to convey the message to worried Malaysians, but he did not. Was he waiting for his consultants to come up with a script and a set of more acceptable wardrobe?

It was equally bad that (I’m very sure it was his consultants who prepared this line) Najib made only the home and business insurance issue as THE reason for not declaring an emergency in the flood-stricken states. There was a bunch of other stronger reasons that could have been used, but maybe his consultants thought it was best to use the insurance issue as that was more personal for flood victims. Well, it backfired. Miserably! Adding insult to injury, the disaster-relief operation was like a dumbstruck Medusa. Every agency was doing its own thing with no clear command and control until much later. Given that the head of the National Security Council is an administrator rather than a field man, and has had no experience managing disasters, with the Prime Minister being abroad, things did not move as they should have.

Anyway, I have digressed from the issue of Najib’s quarrel with his detractors. But I think Najib’s continuous display of dishing out half-baked policies and display of desperately holding on to the Premiership simply means that he is no Tun Razak, who was brilliant in character and leadership that even political dinosaurs like Lim Kit Siang misses him, and Dyana Samad remembers Tun Razak’s superb leadership although she was still swimming inside her father’s balls when the Tun died.

UMNO needs to evolve and revamp itself in order to stay relevant in the next general elections. But first, it needs a serious change in leadership.

Crisis Mismanaged

The Prime Minister recently said that lessons of the Sulu intrusion must be identified. That is only half the battle won. It should also be learnt.

When the Sulu militants began landing at Kampung Tanduo in the Lahad Datu district of Sabah, both the military intelligence and police’s Special Branch knew exactly their numbers, type of weapons, how many more they were expecting, whose house they rendezvoused at and their intention of coming to Sabah. Within hours, elements of the General Operations Force plus the army’s 5th Brigade were deployed to effect a cordon around the area, with combat elements from the Navy, Marine Police and the Maritime Enforcement Agency taking stations offshore. More military conventional and non-conventional forces plus naval assets were already enroute in the ensuing initial hours. Within the first 24-hours, I am in the opinion that we had an overwhelming force to combat the militants. As a former serving officer of His Majesty’s Armed Forces of managerial level, I would have quickly acted in accordance to the Principles of War and the Principles of Crisis Management.

The first Principle of War is the Selection of Aim and its Maintenance. This is the Master Principle that must be established at the commencement of hostilities and followed through and through, and everything else should fall in place. However, we see the pussy-footing of this issue in Putrajaya, in particular the Ministry of Home Affairs, in making decisions. What we saw instead was the downplaying of the seriousness of the matter by the Minister himself. How can we forget his “old men with rusty rifles” response to his appreciation of the enemy’s physical condition, forgetting the fact that these men had been involved in insurgency warfare against their own government, beheading priests and nuns and fellow Muslims, burning churches etc for the past half a century.

20130317-145439.jpg

This was the same reaction from Admiral Sir Tom Phillips while sailing on board one of the Royal Navy’s most-modern battleships, the HMS Prince of Wales, off the east coast of Malaya. “The Japs can’t see us very well because they have slant eyes,” was his remark when Japanese bombers approached his ships.

In short, never underestimate your enemy, and never take your eyes off them. Margaret Thatcher followed this principle upon being informed of the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland islands. Within the first 48 hours, she mustered the largest modern British armada to repel the invasion.

This is because the seventh Principle of Management is You Have 48-Hours. The first 48-hours is the crunch time. If you are not ahead of the crisis within this time, you will be run over by the crisis. What we saw was more negotiations being done by the police as instructed by their superiors. We see that the enemy have already established their aim in accordance with the first Principle of War, yet we were not acting in response to that aim. While the Minister of Home Affairs was seen making ad hoc comments in between plating trees on the issue, still downplaying the crisis, the Minister of Defence was not yet roped into the whole thing to assist in resolving the crisis. This is against the Ninth Principle of War which is Cooperation – to incorporate teamwork, sharing burden of dangers, risks, and opportunities. This gave time for the enemy to maintain their aim of coming to Sabah, and they dug in, with no intention of leaving.

20130317-151138.jpg

There was no communication between the authorities and members of the public, a clear failure in crisis communication. Rules five of the Principles of Crisis Management clearly states that there are three key messages to be delivered within the first 48 hours of the crisis, and they are:

  • We have a plan to deal with….and this has to go hand-in-hand with the first Principle of War,
  • We regret to inconvenience…show compassion to the people affected by the crisis so that hey will understand their need to be inconvenienced, and,
  • We have begun investigations into this matter to ensure this does not occur in the future…you need to re-assure the public that you are on top of this.
  • You need to back this up with action, but after the first skirmish that saw the demise of the first two policemen from the VAT69, there was no follow up. This was not in accordance with the third principle of war which is Offensive Action. This is the practical way to seek to gain advantage, to sustain the momentum and seize the advantage. This never happened. We lost the fifth principle of war: Surprise.

    Instead, there was absolute silence, and misleading statements issued such as the attack on the police party at Kampung Simunul near Semporna that caused a huge loss of life. Gunfire could be heard from nearby islands, and in this age of digital wireless communications, word spreads faster than before the last shot was fired that night. Instead, the official communiqué said it was a drug raid and was not related to the events in Kampung Tanduo. Mind you, although Kampung Tanduo is in the district of Lahad Datu it is much closer to the district of Semporna, gateway to the Tun Sakaran Marine Park, home to the tourist-packed islands of Mabul, Kapalai, Mataking and Sipadan. When this event finally hits the fan, and villagers took it upon themselves to dispatch of one of the militants themselves, did the authorities finally admitted what had happen.

    Such silence only fuelled rumours, as stated in the sixth principle of Crisis Management: Beware of the Court of Public Opinion. The Opposition rumour-mill was quick with this, and the government was slow to react, relying on the service of contracted and non-contracted bloggers to do the public relations, while the Ministry of Communications was also slow in its response and did nothing to explain to the masses about the cession agreement so on and so forth, just a response made in passing by the Minister during an ad hoc interview. I often wonder if it was done in such a manner for self-promotion or that Radio Televisyen Malaysia, as an arm of the Ministry of Communications, did not have the time nor resources to come up with fillers to educate the general public on the crux of the issue in Lahad Datu.

    In the end, the public wanted action. And finally, the Minister of Defence was roped in. He went back to KL to brief the Prime Minister on what needs to be done. Subsequently, the Prime Minister ordered the police and military to work together and do the necessary to end this. Only now we see a more structured concentration of force and economy of effort by the joint-military-police action against the militants. And finally, press conferences are handled by senior police and military officers who give hard, no-nonsense facts, rather than by politicians who are more familiar with sugar-coating facts.

    And as the tenth principle of Crisis Management states: Every Crisis Is An Opportunity. Smart leaders would know that in the midst of a crisis, there is an opportunity to be seized. The government has announced an increase in the defence budget to support the formation of the East Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM). However, the decision to place this command under the Chief Minister of Sabah instead of the National Security Council could be erroneous.

    Trust me, there will be more trouble. If there is a lesson to be learnt from all this, it is to leave defence and security matters in the hands of the professionals. Not politicians.