Monday, February 28, 2011

RM6 billion OPVs: The Navy Can Sue Me

Utusan Malaysia proves to be the master of “putar-belit” with its article published on the 24 February entitled “TLDM akan saman Tony Pua” when the only comment made by the Navy Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar was that he does not rule out the possibility of filing a defamation suit against me. To quote Utusan itself, “Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia (TLDM) tidak menolak kemungkinan akan memfailkan saman fitnah terhadap Setiausaha Publisiti Kebangsaan DAP, Tony Pua.”

But then again, we are already used to the lies spun by Utusan Malaysia.

Nevertheless, given the possibility that I may be sued for alleged defamation by the Navy, I’ll make the open declaration that I’m ready to face any suit filed against me, in the line of my duty as a Member of Parliament.

When Defence Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi announced the order for 6 units of offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) for the amount of RM6 billion from Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn Bhd, he did so without any accompanying details. Given the size and scale of the expenditure with the tax-payers’ money, it is imperative for an MP to be demand for the details of such an acquisition. This is especially so in the light of the fact that there are different types of “patrol vessels” priced between RM100 million to RM1 billion or more.

Malaysian citizens have a right to know what exactly we are getting for our money’s worth especially given the less than stellar track record of our Ministry of Defence which is engulfed in scandals after scandals over the past decade, including the purchase of 6 offshore patrol vessels for RM5.35 billion in 2000 which was not only delayed for nearly 2 years, but had a major cost overrun of 26.2% or RM1.4 billion, costing the people a total of RM6.75 billion.

Tan Sri Abdul Aziz who subsequently clarified that the new patrol vessels purchased were very powerful and heavily equipped vessels which could take part in surface-to-air, surface-to-surface and anti-submarine warfare in the class of “littoral combat ships (LCS)”.

Assuming that Boustead is indeed supplying 6 LCS for the Malaysian Navy which is worth an average of RM1 billion each, the Minister of Defence will still have to answer as to the rationale behind such extravagant purchases for our security needs.

In fact, there are only 2 Littoral Combat Ships in operation today in the world, the USS Independence and USS Freedom in the United States (US). Due to budget constraints, the US Navy had to undergo months of negotiations with the US Congress in the House of Representatives and Senate which voted against various plans before finally securing approval to place an order of 2 ships in 2010, another 2 in 2011 and more subsequently with 2 world-class military defence companies, Lockheed Martin and Austal.

While the United States which faces threats and fights wars in all parts of the world is cutting back on defence spending, owns only 2 LCS, Malaysia has chosen to spending RM6 billion to build 6 LCS in a region not anticipated to be facing threats or confrontation for a foreseeable future.

Worse, the proposed spending comes at a time when the Government is fighting to reign in the budget deficit, control the country’s ballooning RM406 billion debt and has imposed austerity measures by cutting subsidies and increasing taxes of basic goods and services.

The Government needs to practice what it preach in the Government Transfrmation Programme (GTP) and New Economic Model (NEM) which called for accountable and transparent procurement practices. The threat of a lawsuit is not a first, for I have been similarly sued by SYABAS for calling upon the company to return its water concession to the Selangor state government to protect the interest of the rakyat, and I will continue to ask pertinent and uncomfortable questions to our Ministers to check on the excesses of the BN Government.
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