Since 1990, Malaysia has had nine Defence Minsters, two serving twice namely:
Najib Razak – Oct. 1990 – May 1995
Hamid Albar – May 1995 – Dec 1999
Najib Razak – Dec. 1995 – Mar 2008
Abdullah Badawi – Mar 2008 – April 2009
Zahid Hamidi – April 2009 – May 2013
Hishammuddin Hussein – May 2013 – May 2018
Mohamad Sabu – May 2018 – Feb. 2020
Ismail Sabri – Mar 2020 – Aug 2021
Hishamuddin Hussein – Aug 2020 – present
Which of the nine Defence Ministers of Malaysia since 1990 is responsible for the latest mega defence procurement scandal – the RM9 billion littoral combatant ship (LCS) scandal?
Zahid had said it was not fair to link him to the LCS scandal as he was not the Defence Minister when the RM9 billion LCS contract was signed on 17th July 2014 as he was no more Defence Minister.
Is he putting the blame on Hishamuddin who was Defence Minister after him from May 2013 to May 2018?
Hishamuddin has yet to disclose what he did as Defence Minister until May 2018 to ensure that the largest procurement in the history of the Ministry of Defence did not end up as a disaster and a scandal, but he has the opportunity as a Defence Minister for the second time to put right the wrongs to ensure that Malaysia can take delivery of the six LCS – as no single LCS has been completed although the taxpayers have paid more than RM6 billion.
Who else in Zahid’s opinion should the PAC call to understand the intricacies of LCS scandal which the PAC had not called?
But the UMNO President cannot deny the undeniable – that as Defence Minister in July 2011, he overturned the decision as recommended by the Navy to contract six Dutch-made Sigma LCS and chose the Scorpene manufacturer’s six French-made Gowind LCS within three days without consulting the Navy, the end-user.
The LOI (Letter of Intent) of the procurement was issued on 16th Oct. 2020 and the LOA (Letter of Award) issued on16th December 2011.
In fact, the RM9 billion LCS was so contractor-centric instead of end user-driven, that the Royal Malaysian Navy never knew that the decision had been overturned on 11th July 2011 and had to be informed by the contractor.
No wonder the then head of Royal Malaysian Navy, Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar said in one of his 10 letters of protest – five to the Defence Minister and two to the Prime Minister which were all ignored – that “there is no precedent of the design being decided by the main contractor and not the end-user”.
Abdul Aziz said “something was gravely wrong” as the navy and not the contractor should be setting the terms of the LCS contract but the Royal Malaysian Navy was “fighting a losing battle”.
Going through the Public Accounts (PAC) Report and the testimonies given by the various witnesses at the PAC hearings, I can think of three possible scenarios for Zahid overturning his decision in three days on the acquisition of Sigma LCS and favouring Gowind LCS, viz:
(I) Firstly, Zahid was a very bad Minister who did not bother to get the views of Royal Malaysia Navy, the end-user of the RM9 billion LCS procurement, and unilaterally and arbitrarily decided to change the Dutch-made Sigma LCS design to the French-made Gowind LCS design without understanding what he was doing.
(II) Secondly, Zahid was instructed by the then Prime Minister, Najib Razak, to change his decision to procure the Sigma LCS to the Gowind LCS design, and he had to execute the Prime Minister’s instruction regardless of the views and needs of the end-user, the Malaysian Royal Navy.
(III) Thirdly, the decision to procure the Gowind LCS was decided by the Prime Minister, Najib, from the very beginning, going back probably to 2009, and this with Zahid’s knowledge – which meant that the nearly year-long six meetings between the RMN and the Defence Ministry on the RMN’s recommendation for the Sigma LCS from October 2009 to May 2010, leading to Zahid as the Defence Minister giving final approval on 26th May 2011 for the Sigma LCS procurement, were pure charade and the RMN’s views were utterly irrelevant and inconsequential.
It is most ridiculous to blame Mohd Sabu when he became the Defence Minister in May 2018 for the LCS scandal, when in April 2018, a month before the UMNO-Barisan Nasional government was toppled by Pakatan Harapan, OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) including Naval Group (former manufacturer of Scorpene submarine and the real power in the RM9 billion contract) had stopped work because they had not been paid by the contractor, BNS.
This information is to be found in the testimony of Muez bin Abdul Aziz, the Defence Ministry Chief Secretary, before the PAC on 18th November 2020.
The most incriminating evidence that the sixth Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak cannot disclaim responsibility for the RM9 billion LCS scandal is his failure to deny that he was the “hidden hand” behind the RM9 billion LCS scandal and his challenge to those blaming him for the LCS scandal to show proof that he interfered with the ships’ design.
There are strong circumstantial evidence that Najib was the “hidden hand” behind the LCS scandal – being the Prime Minister and Finance Minister as well as former Defence Minister twice, his “French connection” and for making the most noise after the publication of the PAC report.
However, the most challenging issue now is whether Hishamuddin can redeem himself of his failure in his first tenure as Defence Minister from 2013 – 2018 to avert the RM9 billion LCS scandal and to ensure the achievement of four objectives:
(i) Complete the six LCS;
(ii) Fight corruption in defence procurement;
(iii) Protect the welfare of military and ex-military personnel’; and
(iv) Safeguard the nation’s security and sovereignty.
Lim Kit Siang
MP for Iskandar Puteri