Wednesday, August 21

Chicken wings in the eye of a storm


ON Tuesday, one of my journalists in Sibu received a public tip-off that dozens of people were digging for chicken wings at a landfill in Bukit Aup.

After visiting the site, the Borneo Post team there asked whether we would like to break the news online. I was initially skeptical that a huge quantity of chicken wings had been buried at the dumpsite and were being dug up supposedly for human consumption.

My reaction was akin to my cousin’s comment on my Facebook when I later shared the news with him – what’s the big deal about chicken wings being buried?

But my conscience was pricked when my journalist revealed the warning she got from her concerned informer: “If Borneo Post is not going to report, we shall be eating chicken wings dredged from a trash pile for the next few months.”

Within an hour after the news broke, Facebook and the news portals received 100K hits. As the situation unraveled – thanks to investigative journalism – the Customs Department went into denial mode, washing its hands of the whole affair and abruptly ceasing to talk further with the media.

Regardless, as the buried chicken wings were being dug up, many shortcomings within the public administrative system have once again been exposed.

Acting Sarawak Customs director Ahmad Zainudin Draham confirmed the chicken wings were disposed of on March 30 and 31 upon confiscation as they were imported without permit – a whopping 81,500kg of fleshy pinions with a value of RM543,706 and import duty amounting to RM108,742.

“Based on markings on the boxes, the country of origin is The Netherlands. It is the first such confiscation in Sibu. Investigations are on-going to locate the importer,” he said.

Ahmad Zainudin credited the seizure of the items to a public tip-off and his Department’s intelligence team but pointed out at the same time that the Putrajaya Customs Department (PCD) was responsible for the mess up.

He said he could not see the rationale behind the PCD’s decision to dump uncustomed chicken wings in Sibu with Sibu Customs only providing the manpower.

However, the fact that the Sarawak Customs director had provided the manpower showed he at least had knowledge of the disposal of chicken wings at the dumpsite and that such action flew in the face of the Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) for disposing of confiscated food items.

It is quite unthinkable that a “non-existent” company could have imported poultry parts worth more than half a million ringgit even though Royal Malaysian Customs Department (JDKM) director-general Datuk T Subromaniam claimed this was actually the case.

Now, how could we bring ourselves to believe in such excuses, lame as they were? How could we trust the authorities when even with the SOP, the disposal of confiscated food items had not been properly handled?

Undeniably, there is a continuing decline of trust in government agencies, brought about by inefficient and ineffective delivery of service, unnecessary wastage of public resources, lack of integrity and poor management.

Unless structural and procedural reforms are instituted, a paradigm shift in mindset to get rid of graft is effected and citizens involvement in combating malpractices is encouraged, we shall see the continuing erosion of trust in the administration of our public authorities. More than at any time, what we need now is for the erring providers of public service to show they are worthy of our trust. Shouldn’t the bad apples be removed before they spoil the whole barrel?

But nothing comes without a blessing. With the chicken wings saga, I see a community in my hometown which is not only caring but also willing to be engaged and take ownership in protecting the well-being of the residents.

Also, the swift action by the police to cordon off the area and station personnel at the site to stop further digging for the safety and health of the community and the assurance that the police are working closely with the Resident’s Office, the Health Department and the local councils to solve the problem, is commendable.

The issue may revolve around chicken meat but the community which has to deal with the fallout of the chicken wings fiasco, is certainly not chicken-hearted. An apology is in order from whosoever have used the word chicken-hearted – meaning timid, afraid, fearful or cowardly – to tag the Sibu community which have demonstrated extraordinary courage in exposing the dumping of seized food items (in this instance chicken wings) on such a large scale at a local junk heap.

The word chicken is associated with cowardice and gutlessness but the species of fowls that we call chickens are certainly not chicken-hearted. If you have seen the patience a hen exhibits in sitting on its eggs to hatch them and how the protection it so selflessly provides to keep the new-hatched chicks out of harm’s way, then you will appreciate the courage and love of the mother hen.

The concern of Sibu residents for the safety and health of their community over the very real possibility that chicken wings dug up at a dumping ground could end up on their dining tables or the supermarket shelves and their determination to expose the weakness of the delivery system should serve as wakeup calls to the quarters concerned.

Obviously, there is a wish to eliminate graft or corruption. It’s laudable but will we see light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon?

If the importer were non-existent, then surely the shipper and the forwarding agent would be privy to such information. In fact, we could even go as far as The Netherlands to find out who is willing to spend half a million ringgit on importing chicken wings (without a permit at that) and then mindlessly allowing the goods to be wastefully dumped at a trash pile?

As we enter Holy Week, let us remember how Jesus compares His love to that of a hen that “doth gather her brood under her wings” (Luke 12:34b).

Indeed, we should feel safe and secure under His wings.

Blessed Holy Week.