KUCHING: Members of the Rajang River Basin delegation who traveled to Putrajaya to meet Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak yesterday using military aircraft were given the choice of flying “army style” or taking a commercial flight.
Out of the 180 members that made up the delegation, more than 30 had opted for commercial flights while the rest wanted to fly in the two brand new military aircraft.
Departing in two batches at 11.00am and 11.30am respectively, the 142 passengers were carried by the two military aircraft from Sibu to Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
The arrangement to fly the 142 members of the delegation, however, received criticism from netizens when news and photos of the travelers comprising grassroots leaders, village chiefs and Barisan Nasional (BN) supporters went viral on social media yesterday.
Some netizens questioned why military planes were used to fly the community leaders while others claimed that such an arrangement was insulting to the 142 passengers, some of whom are community leaders and longhouse chiefs.
The head of the delegation, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing when contacted said he was too poor to fly all 179 passengers on commercial flights.
“I am too poor, I cannot afford to fly them all on commercial flights. They were given the choice, to fly commercial where they have to pay for themselves or fly by army plane, where they don’t have to pay.
“More than 30 chose to fly commercial while the rest chose to ‘fly army’ for a few reasons. Some did not want to transit in Kuching as the army planes would fly them direct. Others chose the army planes because they have their whole bunch of friends with them.
“These two planes are brand new. And as civilians, they are the first to actually use the planes. What is wrong with flying in army planes? Not all civilians can have that kind of experience,” Masing who is also Parti Rakyat Sarawak president told DayakDaily today.
The 180-member delegation had a lunch meeting at Sri Perdana with Najib today.
It is understood that the 142 passengers who had travelled to Kuala Lumpur by military planes will make their return journey on similar aircraft tomorrow evening.
Meanwhile, when in Kuala Lumpur, the delegation is using tourist buses to visit different locations.
“Well, if we can use buses to transport them from Sibu to Kuala Lumpur, perhaps then there will be no issue? The thing is, there is no bus services offered between Sibu to Kuala Lumpur,” quipped Masing.