By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
The continuing saga of a Malaysian military attaché staff in Wellington, New Zealand is a hotly debated issue that is beginning to prick our conscience. The matter would not have elicited such negativity had it been appropriately handled by both the New Zealand and Malaysian authorities.
Before we delve into the subject matter, permit me to correct some misconceptions and misinformation regarding the protagonist, Muhammad Rizalman Ismail. This is largely due to inaccurate reporting in the media.
Rizalman is a non-commissioned officer (NCO) with the rank of a Warrant Officer Class Two or WO 2, in short. Not a second warrant officer, as is widely reported in the news media. There are two categories of warrant officers – WO 1 and WO 2. These are the highest achievable ranks for enlisted men in the armed forces – army, navy and air force. Below them are the lance corporals, corporals, sergeants and staff sergeants.
Enlisted men join the army after undergoing training at the Recruit Training Centre in Port Dickson. The navy and air force have their own training centres. They are promoted as they get along in the service from private to lance corporal and henceforth. Promotion is based on them attending and passing career courses at training establishments in the country. Some are sent overseas if courses are not available locally.
Officers, incidentally, undergo a four-year course at the Royal Military Academy in Sungei Besi and are commissioned with a basic bachelor degree. In the good old days you either do a two-year or a six–month course at the military college, contingent upon one being a regular or a short-service commissioned officer. I did a two-year course pledging my allegiance to King and Country on May 8, 1968, the 23rd Anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day that heralded the end of the Second World War.
Rizalman is not a military attaché and neither is he a diplomat. He is simply a staff of the military attaché, someone who is at the beck and call of the colonel (rank of military attaché) and does his bidding like all good soldiers do.
The criteria for selection for an overseas posting are not as stringent as they were before. In those days, one’s fluency in the English language was a must. Today with many having a poor command of English, officers included, a grasp of the language is considered sufficient. That is how low we have come over the decades.
Those picked for an overseas posting undergo a short orientation course in Port Dickson or at Wisma Putra (Foreign Ministry). And the lessons, mind you, include dining etiquette, conversational skills, social mannerism and taboos.
Preference normally goes to NCOs from the Intelligence Corps since the job of service attachés, the world over, is mainly to snoop on the military of the host country. I did my share of discreet snooping when attending courses and field exercises in Indonesia, Australia and the United States of America.
When Rizalman’s impropriety hit the headlines on Monday, June 30 after New Zealand Prime Minister John Kay broke his silence on the alleged sexual assault, Rizalman and his family were already in Kuala Lumpur.
Rizalman was arrested by the Kiwi police on Friday, May 9 and was produced at a Wellington court on Saturday, May 10. Meetings between the Malaysian High Commission, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Kiwi police followed suit. Decision to revoke Rizalman’s diplomatic immunity so he could be tried was, however, withheld. There seemed to be a misunderstanding between the officials of both countries regarding the word “waiver”, so said the report.
The faux paus by Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, whether deliberate or otherwise, is uncalled for, as the country’s reputation is at stake. With the MH 370 debacle looming ominously in the background, a diplomatic gaffe of this nature is definitely in poor taste.
Inaction by the authorities is considered by many as an attempt at covering up. I was appalled when the Ministry of Defence announced that Rizalman would be court-martialled instead. How could he be tried in a military court when the offence was committed abroad with the principal witness a native of New Zealand? It certainly does not make sense. On second thought, does anything in the country make sense anymore?
Rizalman’s extradition to New Zealand, meanwhile, has been put on hold as the military authorities are not satisfied with his mental well-being. Frankly speaking, does an alleged felon require that much assurance?