PETALING JAYA: The lure of a high-paying job took telecommunications consultant Hor Chee Fei to Somalia, one of the world’s most dangerous places.
Hor and five other Malaysians managed to avoid detection by blending in with a crowd of Chinese tourists.
Hor, 49, had been asked to help set up a mobile telephone network in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, a breakaway region in the northwest of Somalia.“It was a big contract and the money was good,” said Hor, who has experience working in several African countries.The consultant said he was engaged by the telco’s owner on a one-year contract.He added that the owner, who is very rich, arranged for the company’s CEO to take him to inspect the facilities in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital city, to prove that it was a legitimate business.
Convinced, Hor recruited five others and they flew there in December and immediately got to work.
“They have excellent machinery but the local workers were incompetent,” Hor said during an interview.
He said his team managed to get things running although progress was very slow.
However, when a new CEO took over in January, their pay was withheld as the company claimed they had not performed, despite working over 12 hours a day and taking up tasks that were not part of their job scope.“We sensed something was not right and knew we had to leave as we were being bullied there,” Hor said.He said they felt threatened because it was a lawless place and they were in no position to demand their dues.Besides, their employers also implied that they could make it difficult for them if they did not continue their work.The Malaysians hatched an escape plan with the help of some local contacts when everyone was busy celebrating during the network’s launch last Saturday.“We did not feel safe until the aeroplane door was locked,” said Hor, who flew to Dubai from Berbera, three hours away by road.“Men came looking for us at the airport departure lounge and even on the runway,” said Hor, who arrived home together with the other Malaysians on Tuesday morning.He is currently consulting with his lawyers to get the workers their six-figure salary, which was to be paid in US dollars.He warned small companies to be careful when dealing with powerful “businessmen” from that part of the world.Johnson Lukose, 47, from Kuala Lumpur, described the trip as an unnecessary risk, adding that he would never return there.“I am bitter about the incident and at Hor for putting us in that situation. But I’m also grateful to him for getting us out of there,” said Lukose, who was hired as a power systems consultan