WHETHER we like it or not, Malaysia has to admit that it sucks at managing a crisis and even simple public relations.
We are our own worst enemies.
The latest allegations from across the border Jakarta, to be exact threatened to turn into a crisis when family members of three dead Indonesians, with the help of an NGO, claimed their organs had been harvested.
How they came to that conclusion is baffling but the Indonesian media swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
It all started when the relatives lodged complaints with a local NGO, Migrant Care, and Indonesia's Foreign Ministry two weeks ago.
As Malaysia is a favourite neighbour to be bashed, the local media played up the issue, sparking discussions over the organ trade and how the lives of overseas Indonesian workers were not valued.
You don't need to be an expert to see that they are putting the blame squarely on Malaysia that kind neighbour that hosts over two million Indonesian workers.
It is made worse when the news is picked up by the Singapore media.
That is enough damage to Malaysia's name as two stories were given prominence in the Singapore Straits Times.
It leaves one to wonder why the issue was not picked up and addressed by Wisma Putra or the Malaysian police earlier.
Even some in the Indonesian media are wondering why the Malaysian Government was quiet over the report, as one observer noted: “It is as if Malaysia is hiding something”.
A simple short statement would have sufficed to deny the allegations by the Indonesian media but no, Wisma Putra decided to wait until the last minute, even after this newspaper carried denials quoting officials last Thursday.
It was almost laughable when Wisma Putra decided to issue a statement last Friday afternoon saying it viewed seriously the allegations involving the three Indonesian citizens which appeared in several Malaysian and Indonesian media reports the past few days.
The statement also said the autopsy reports from Hospital Tuanku Jaafar, Seremban, revealed that the organs of the three Indonesian citizens were not removed or harvested.
That Wisma Putra statement was only to be overtaken by the press conference in Jakarta hardly an hour later by Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa who debunked what had been alleged by the families of the dead and reported by the Indonesian media.
In other words, Marty had to do the job of absolving Malaysia of the allegation.
That press conference was also attended by the National Police health division chief Brig Gen Musaddeq Ishaq who said the vital organs, including brains, eyes, liver, and kidneys of the three Indonesians were intact.
That statement, which should have come from Kuala Lumpur much earlier, would have killed off the speculation of organ trafficking in Indonesia.
Word has it that Migrant Care wanted to hold a demonstration at the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta last Friday but it was called off.
It would not be surprising if the Indonesians do so on another day.
Maybe they heard the outcome of the second autopsy on the three bodies in Lombok by the police forensic team and Mataram University medical faculty that their allegations were wrong.
Had Migrant Care gone ahead with the demonstration, it would have sparked another round of accusations and debate between Malaysia and Indonesia.
This latest episode should serve as a wake-up call to the Government and Wisma Putra on how we need to act fast and be proactive in managing issues.
As for Indonesia, why did it take so long for it to react on complaints from its citizens?
Foreign relations cannot be conducted this way when they are pressured by an NGO with baseless and wild accusations.
And for us in Malaysia, we should have told Indonesia in not so many words: “Check your facts first.”
By MERGAWATI ZULFAKAR