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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Depoliticizing Defence Procurement - A Step to the Future

Defence spending is one of the most critical component in nation-building. A sovereign government that failed to plan and to execute defence spending is a government that has failed its people, especially at time of crisis.

However, defence spending is usually obscured in secrecy. Thus, allowing for avenues for kickback and embezzlement. Malaysia is also believed to be not exempted from this callous behaviour. 

Yes, you read it correctly. While I have been defending the Ministry of Defence in most of their defence procurement, I understand that there are some procurements and expenditures which are questionable in nature. Case in point, the purchase of Kedah-class NGPV (New Generation Patrol Vessel). In this well-documented issue, the PAC (Parliament Accountability Committee) had stated they believed there were elements of misappropriation in the contract to supply 6 Meko 100-derived Kedah class "naked" offshore patrol vessels to the Navy.

Unfortunately, the fact that defence spending do require certain level of secrecy, defence spending dealt in very transparent manner too had been unfortunately being tarred as being made in hush hush manner as to benefit certain cronies. The purchase of Scorpene-class submarines is case in point.
I have discussed from time to time why do we need to have the submarines and in fact, I believe we need to have at least 10 submarines (6 out patrolling at any point of time, 2 in maintenance and 2 more for resupply). But with the current size of our surface combatants, a more advisable size should be 4 to 6 units.

But allow me get back to my main topic for today.

As defence spending is usually a large ticket purchase, defence-related issue is usually played with politics in their mind. Or even as human rights issue. But one must understand that defence should not have been politicised in the first place for two very obvious reasons.

Politicised Defence Procurement Blinds Us from Defence Spending Objectives
Case in point. The purchase of Scorpene-class submarines was politicised so much that we had actually lost sight of the embezzlement involving PSC Naval Dockyard in the contract to supply RMN for 6 units of Kedah-class patrol vessels. It was high likely that these individuals with vested interest to see the fall of then Deputy PM felt that the murder-cum-scandal can be used to destroy Datuk Seri Najib's political career. It didn't.

What happened to the former CEO of PSC Naval Dockyard? He managed to get himself declared bankrupt and somehow absolved from the due process. And the Navy gotten 6 naked ships.

This Will Be Your Military When You Win the Election
Let's face it. As long as our nation practises democratic electoral process, today's opposition will still have the possibility to win the election and form the Govt. When it comes to politics, our military stance is that they support the government of the day.  Peeve the military too much, or even the civil service for that matter, you will end up with a very rebellious civil service.

The Third Reason
Actually, there is a third reason. And it is far more compelling than the rest. Continuous politicising of defence spending will indirectly result whoever that becomes Minister of Defence to always second-guessing his own decisions when purchasing critical defence assets for national needs. In the end, we would be weakened defensively and in worst case scenario, we might lose our sovereignty. I don't know you, but if that happens, I'll fight to regain it or die trying.

Be a Serious Contender, Don't Make Defence a Punching Bag
I would like to implore to the Opposition not to use defence as a punching bag. For too long already, you have been playing with defence issues. Spinning and turning, a non-issue becomes an issue.
Remember, if a war happens, you too are at the losing ends. Unless of course if you are collaborating with the enemies, which I believe your conscience will prevent you from committing such travesty. Still, if it does happen, you would happy to know that my friends and I will be happy to invite you to a friendly chat.

You can start by having having your own Shadow Defence Minister. Understand that the opposition consist of different opposition parties that may or may not be on the same page anymore. If your party loves the nation, then put aside your political differences so we can work together.

It is not that there are no credible defence analysts or individuals with good understanding of defence within their ranks. Haji Mohamad Imran, PKR MP for Lumut for example, was a former Navy Rear Admiral and he knows his stuff. My contacts informed me he still has a good working relationships with Ministry of Defence. But that is because he didn't politicise defence issues as compared to the likes of Rafizi and Kua.

Permanent Parliamentary Select Committee for Defence
An option that I would like to explore is to have a Parliamentary Select Committee for Defence Spending to be a permanent body, attached to Ministry of Defence. The committee should consist of MPs from both sides of political divide. It would be in odd number; this is to prevent hanged decision. They will vet through the procurement decisions made by Defence Minister and provides rubber stamp of approval. The Minister still retains decision-making rights, but can choose to seek advice from the committee.

The same committee should also be allowed to criticize Finance Ministry's decision not purchase assets that are in critical need. Too often Ministry of Defence has to make do with what Ministry of Finance is willing to allow MINDEF to use.

For purpose of being able to understand military needs and evaluate the needs, each MP should be allocated with at least 2 advisors, 1 military and 1 civilian, whom must be vetted thoroughly by Military Intelligence. The MPs too are to be included the joint briefing of Defence White Paper, whenever one is being prepared, and the MP should be allowed to have access to the Tier 1 Defence White Paper (Tier 1 should be for top leadership where highly sensitive national secrets would be included, while Tier 2 is to be made available to all MP and citizens. MP in the committee which is found to have revealed T1 information to non-authorised persons would be subjected to OSA prosecution without Parliamentary protection, unless with sanctions from Head of Parliamentary Select Committee with the purpose of highlighting a danger that needs to be addressed immediately).

Improving Defence Knowledge Amongst MP
No doubt, defence knowledge amongst Members of Parliament are sorely lacking. Many do not have much knowledge of defence needs and spending, and most only know how to criticize the spending. As an effort to boost the knowledge of our MP, Ministry of Defence should consider either issuing a periodical to all 222 MP on defence knowledge. Alternatively, Ministry of Defence should also consider to purchase readily available defence magazines for all 222 MP.

Defence Spending - To Ensure We Can Sleep Peacefully
Lahad Datu intrusion was just one small intrusion that brought nightmares to many Malaysians. The incident should have been a wake up call for Malaysians, especially our politicians to stop politicising defence issues. Yet they persist.

We were lucky with Lahad Datu intrusion. We might not be lucky for the next national security threat. And we don't want to have sleepless night, as we all want to wake up to smell freedom in the air, and Malaysian flag continue to fly in the breeze.

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