The recent expose of the RM6bn scandal involving the littoral combat ships project was a rude shock to ordinary Malaysians who have yet to recover from the colossal impact of the 1MDB financial mismanagement that rocked not only Malaysia but also the entire world.
It never rains but pours for a country that is also struggling to get back on its feet in the wake of the Covid pandemic, economic downturn and political instability.
The naval ships affair suggests that we have not learned a useful lesson from scandals such as 1MDB, which should alert those who are supposed to exercise prudence in managing our national coffers to the importance of transparency and accountability.
Taxpayers have every reason to be concerned about and angry with the way their money has been mismanaged to the point of putting the lives of our navy officers at risk.
If disclosing documents pertaining to the littorala combat ships contract would jeopardise our national security, as claimed by former defence minister Zahid Hamidi, then it is equally important for us to realise that corruption and abuse of power in certain sectors of society can threaten the country’s security as well.
That is why concerned Malaysians should also be troubled by the fact that the original Sigma design chosen by the Navy was later changed to the Gowind design, despite protests from then navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar over the unilateral decision. Aziz suspected something was amiss after several complaint letters he allegedly sent to the authorities were ignored.
Public shock, frustration and anger are well encapsulated by a few postings that made their rounds on social media.
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For instance, a posting carrying the heading “The Most Wanted Toy of the Year” showcased a Navy littoral combat ship toy box in which a miniature Malaysian combat ship was supposed to be placed, but was not there. The wording at the bottom of the box said it all: “World’s Most Invisible Combat Ship”, referring to the fact that not a single combat ship had been delivered as scheduled 11 years after the project started.
The first vessels were supposed to have been delivered to the Navy in 2017, with subsequent deliveries every six months until 2021.
Despite the prolonged delay, the government paid RM6bn to Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn Bhd, which was awarded a contract to deliver six vessels.
Another posting showed a wooden sailing boat, pasted all over with Barisan Nasional and Umno flags, suggesting that the scandalous project started under BN’s watch.
Equally mocking was a posting that made a cheeky comparison between an American stealth bomber and the Malaysian littoral combat ships. The former can go under the radar undetected while the latter has the bizarre capability of completely disappearing from the radar. It is even invisible to the naked eye.
Indeed, strange things can happen to our defence assets. In 2008 two General Electric jet engines reportedly went missing from one of our airforce bases and ended up in a South American country.
In an apparent response to criticisms, Senior Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein assured the Senate that the first vessel would be delivered within two years from now. This assurance might have appeased the senators, but it might not have satisfied many ordinary people.
If anything, given the gravity of the issue, concerned Malaysians would rather have a royal commission of inquiry set up so that those found to have been irresponsible in carrying out their duties and betrayed public trust are made accountable.
That the government places priority on an alleged verbal abuse incident involving a senior government official at the Kuala Lumpur Airport – as shown by the swift formation of a four-member high-level committee led by Attorney General Idrus Harun – instead of the multi-billion ringgit littoral combat ships controversy, sends a very wrong message to ordinary people who want to see their money put to proper use.
Malaysia should strive to avoid gaining high visibility on the world stage for the wrong reasons. – The Malaysian Insight