LETTER | Reading the long and never-ending litany of malfeasance, corruption, and incompetence in our nation’s defence procurement where billions were lost is always a frightfully depressing affair.
In 1988, the British government under Margaret Thatcher signed an agreement with Malaysia where they would provide aid to fund a costly dam in Malaysia - the Pergau hydroelectric dam - in exchange for a major arms deal, two corvettes built by shipbuilders in the UK and costing RM2.2 billion each, in the amount of 20 percent the value of arms sales.
The Overseas Development Administration (ODA - the UK’s development arm at the time, which reported to the Foreign Secretary) found that the dam would not be a cost-efficient way to increase the production of electricity for Malaysia.
Several years and hundreds of millions of pounds later, the High Court in the UK ruled that the agreement was unlawful, setting the tone for tighter scrutiny of British aid programmes.
While the mainstream press in Malaysia published hardly anything on the “Arms for Aid” scandal, the press in the UK levelled allegations of corruption at the Malaysian government, which retaliated with a ‘Buy British Last’ policy in 1994.
It was reported that RMAF had purchased 28 Hawk fighter jets - comprising 15 units of the Hawk108 which is used for training, and 13 Hawk 208, which is a combat aircraft - in 1990 from the United Kingdom and the aircraft were delivered by 1996.
The purchase came with an offset package including the manufacture of air-frame components, cannon, ammunition and tyres in Malaysia. These products would not only be fitted to the Hawks sold to the RMAF but could also be exported to other countries using the same aircraft.
During the infamous armed incursion at Lahad Datu, Sabah in 2013, five Hawk fighter jets and three Boeing F/A 18D Hornets conducted strikes on the armed intruders.
To date, apparently, five Hawk 108 and three Hawk 208 crashed during training for the period from 1996 until now.
From 1968 to 1997, the crashes of Nuri helicopters claimed 73 lives in all.
From 1970 to 1995, four De Havilland Caribou aircraft crashes killed at least 17 servicemen. Then a Super Puma helicopter crashed in January 1994, killing four crew members.
It was the 15th crash involving aircraft of the Royal Malaysian Air Force since 1990 - five involved the Pilatus PC-7 basic training aircraft; four were A-4PTM Skyhawk fighter bombers. The other incidents included the Alouette III helicopter, the Cessna 402 aircraft, a Nuri helicopter, and Hercules C-130 transport aircraft.
In fact, it was remarked publicly that we have lost more aircraft and pilots through accidents than through war combat.
As recent as July 2018, the then defence minister was publicly quoted to have said only four of the 28 Russian-made fighter jets in the RMAF’s inventory are actually able to fly.
The government in 2002 sealed an RM3.7 billion deal to buy three French submarines - two new Scorpene-class submarines and an overhauled ex-French navy submarine, the Agosta 70.
Under the deal, France would buy RM819 million’s (€230 million) worth of Malaysian palm oil, RM327 million (€92 million) of other commodities, and invest RM491 million (€138 million) for training and technology transfer to local firms here.
This deal became a scandal that had become a factor in the French presidential elections of April 22 and May 6, 2012, and the Malaysian general election in 2012 where it was alleged the French contractors paid bribes to Malaysian officials and political kickbacks to a French political party.
In the same year, 2002, the government also signed an RM1.2 billion contract with European consortium MBDA to buy the Jernas short-range missile system to form a new air defence regiment and an RM182 million deal with Russian state-owned company Rosoboronexport for the IGLA air defence system.
In 2003, the government acquired 48 units of the PT-91M tanks from Poland and six units of armoured recovery vehicles, five units of armoured vehicle-launched bridge, three armoured engineering vehicles, defence technology transfer, and training courses lasting between three weeks and six months for 128 army personnel in Poland.
Payment for the purchase includes 30 percent of direct off-set in the form of training and technology transfer and 30 percent of indirect off-set in commodities like palm oil and rubber.
Following a decision by the Royal Malaysian Air Force to phase out its entire fleet of 38 Nuris, after five decades of service, owing to exorbitant maintenance costs, the government announced at the end of 2008 that it would buy 12 Eurocopter EC725 Cougar medium-lift helicopters to replace the country’s 40-year-old fleet of Nuris. Citing a deteriorating economic situation, the government changed its mind two weeks later.
Despite the auditor-general stating that PSC-Naval Dockyard had never built anything but trawlers or police boats before being given the contract, the company was contracted to deliver six patrol boats for the Malaysian Navy in 2004 and complete the delivery in 2007.
Those were supposed to be the first of 27 offshore vessels ultimately cost RM24 billion plus the right to maintain and repair all of the country’s naval craft.
But only two of the barely operational patrol boats had been delivered by mid-2006. There were 298 recorded complaints about the two boats, which were also found to have 100 and 383 uncompleted items aboard them respectively.
The original RM5.35 billion contract ballooned to RM6.75 billion by January 2007. The auditor also reported that the ministry had paid out RM4.26 billion to PSC up to December 2006 although only RM2.87 billion’s worth of work had been done, an overpayment of RM1.39 billion, or 48percent. In addition, Malaysia’s cabinet waived late penalties of RM214 million.
Between December 1999, according to the auditor-general, 14 “progress payments” amounting to RM943 million were made despite the fact that no payment vouchers or any relevant documents could be found.
In Dec 2007, two J8521-type engines used on F5 fighter jets, which the government allegedly paid RM303,570 for, were reported stolen on Dec 20, 2007, and Jan 1, 2008, from the Kuala Lumpur RMAF Material Processing Shed, MATRA 1 in Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur.
The jet engines were later traced to Uruguay and the persons charged for allegedly stealing the jet engines were acquitted by the judge in 2018 on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
In 2015, in an effort to replace the Nuri helicopters, the government announced the purchase of six MD530G, dubbed “Little Birds”, for RM300 million from MD Helicopters Inc of United States aerospace giant McDonnell Douglas Corp.
The terms of the contract stipulate that the helicopters are slated to be delivered in two batches - the first two by July 2017, with the other four scheduled to arrive by Dec 2018.
Despite paying 35 percent of the contract value, amounting to RM112.65 million, the helicopters were not delivered. After much delay, it was delivered in February 2022. No mention was made as to whether additional payments were made or it was delivered based on the original price announced of RM300 million.
Those tasked with protecting the security of this country, personnel in the army, the navy, and the air force are always the victims of one procurement disaster after another in this country.
The above were just a short chronicle of publicly known records of negligence, non-accountability and non-integration in the Malaysian defence sector through the years.
Besides having to pay for the exorbitant military budget through the years, the human casualties and the loss of these very expensive aircraft are not acceptable.
One wonders if we have been short-changed by the arms suppliers, if there have been compromises on the price and quality of the equipment, or even if we have adequately trained personnel to fly these ultra-modern, high-tech jet fighters. And of course, the quality of management and system of accountability have been called into question often enough in the armed forces.
It has become so commonplace that even the public has become blasé about it. But we cannot afford to just roll our eyes, mutter under our collective breath and move on; it is, after all, our money that is being plundered.
At the end of the day, having spent billions on defence, the country is left with aircraft that cannot fly, submarines that have problems diving, and ships that exist only on paper.
What is the point in tabling grandiose white papers on defence in Parliament when we cannot even keep our air and naval assets operational and cannot properly manage the acquisition of needed assets?
And here’s the amazing thing: despite the corruption, mismanagement, malfeasance and incompetence involved, despite the annual auditor-general’s reports and the findings of the Public Accounts Committee, not a single politician, senior general, senior civil servant or CEO has ever been taken to task, let alone charged, for malfeasance, corruption or dereliction of duty.
The government seemed more interested in protecting and helping out cronies than in safeguarding the interests of the nation and giving our men and women in uniform the equipment and support they deserve.
Will the LCS fiasco will be the last defence procurement scandal? Even a seasoned gambler will not bet on it.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.