Harian Metro’s (from left) Mohd Firdaus Ibrahim, Syazwan Msar and Amir Abd Hamid won for Best News Story at the recent Malaysian Press Institute’s journalism awards for 2018. Their report had unmasked the “poor state of health” of government-run hospitals NSTP PIC BY MUHD ZAABA ZAKERIA

AT the recent Malaysian Press Institute’s journalism awards for 2018, I was dumbstruck by the huge number of entries that touched on the incompetence, lack of enforcement and scantiness of responsibility, especially in the public service. Those deficiencies can certainly lead to graft or are already happening, with the perpetrators laughing all the way to the bank, jewellery store or handbag boutique.

Something is wrong somewhere, I mused. And the buck has to stop. Media practitioners and journalists produce newsy stories because of a myriad of reasons. Besides attracting interest, they also have this altruistic or selfless bent to right the wrongs when certain issues are highlighted.

Over the years, publications like the New Straits Times Press-owned Harian Metro and KOSMO from Utusan Malaysia’s stable as well as The Star had been consistently honing their skills on stories that stem from the ineptness of the authorities or from loopholes that the public had taken advantage of.

The winning entry in the Best News Story category by Harian Metro’s Mohd Firdaus Ibrahim, Syazwan Msar and Amir Abd Hamid had unmasked the “poor state of health” of government-run hospitals. Over a period of two months, the trio decided to find out what improvements had been done after the deaths of six patients when fire engulfed Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor Baru on Oct 25, 2016.

To their astonishment, they discovered that of the 86 government hospitals, 39 still did not have Fire Certificates (FCs) from the Fire and Rescue Department up to April 2018!

They also revealed that Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL), the country’s oldest hospital that was set up in 1870, had caught fire thrice in 2003, 2007 and 2018. It still hadn’t furnished changes to its detailed building plan to the fire authorities as at the middle of last year.

Interestingly, like HKL, 14 other hospitals are more than 100 years old or almost touching the century mark. Three are in Perak (Hospital Taiping, established in 1880, Hospital Batu Gajah, 1880 and Hospital Bahagia, Ulu Kinta, 1911), two in Penang (Hospital Penang, 1882 and Hospital Balik Pulau, 1883), two in Johor (Hospital Sultanah Aminah, 1882 and Hospital Pontian,1917), two in Sabah (Hospital Beaufort, 1899 and Hospital Duchess of Kent, Sandakan, 1900), and one each in Kedah (Hospital Alor Star, 1907), Negri Sembilan (Hospital Port Dickson, 1895), Selangor (Hospital Kajang, 1889), Pahang (Hospital Tengku Ampuan Afzan, Kuantan, 1904) and Kelantan (Hospital Sultanah Zainab II, Kota Baru, 1920).

Hospitals without FCs, especially those with erratic wiring, are virtually “time bombs” although they’re supposed to be the “safest places of all”. Although it would certainly need a lot of money to get them properly rewired, equipped and certified, those entrusted with running health services must be responsible enough to call a spade a spade and undertake a safety audit. It pays to be safe than sorry because one never knows what’s lurking in the background if things are left unchecked.

Harian Metro’s investigative slant also paid off when Mohd Firdaus Ibrahim from its special probe team took top honours in the Investigative Report category. He had gone all the way to Guangzhou, China to expose weaknesses in a so-called Electronic Travel Registration & Informatics (eNTRI) online application system. Under a Visa Exemption Programme operated by a private company seemingly for the Malaysian government, the system had screened applications from Chinese tourists to enter Malaysia without a visa for a 15-day stay.

The reporter’s instincts that some monkey business was going on proved to be right with regard to the screening process. His application was approved less than five minutes after making payment and despite submitting a picture of a monkey, a fake flight ticket, a blacklisted passport from China and the address of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission of Malaysia (MACC) office in Putrajaya as the residential address in Malaysia!

Between March 2016 and September 2018, a whopping 329.337 million renminbi or RM198.066 million was collected from 2,058,358 Chinese tourists who were charged 160 renminbi or RM100 for each application. But the government didn’t get a single dime as all the monies were shared among company officials and certain individuals in the Immigration Department. It was just a ruse to raise money by instituting a payment system that bypassed the official framework.

The MACC is believed to be investigating the case. Investigating is one thing but there must be closure as the irregularities brought in an illegal bounty of nearly RM200 million in just 18 months.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli and Luqman Ridhwan Mohamed Nor of KOSMO took the overall top prize, the Kajai Award, named after one of Malaysia’s foremost Malay journalists, Abdul Rahim Kajai, for their report that also topped the Environmental News category.

They had detailed how Malaysia had emerged as the world’s largest plastic rubbish dump as a result of the mushrooming of many plastic processing factories, both legal and illegal, mostly in Selangor. More than 300,000 residents in Teluk Panglima Garang, Jenjarom, Teluk Datok and Banting have, for more than a year, been suffering from exposure to toxic fumes at their doorsteps that can give rise to cancer and respiratory ailments. Have we factored in the health costs for the sickly and the government? How did we get to earn this unsavoury reputation? This is all Third World stuff while we aspire to be a developed country by 2020!

Who is going to take responsibility for all this muck? Will those entrusted with running different arms of our administration step up their work and take the bull by the horns or step out (to own up)?

It would be pertinent for those in positions of power to reflect on what former US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said: “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

The writer is a former chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of Bernama

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