Thomas Daniel was quoted in Free Malaysia Today, 9 August 2022.
PETALING JAYA: A defence analyst, describing the local defence industry as a patronage machine, says politicians and bureaucrats and not the military have the final say in arms deals.
Thomas Daniel, an analyst with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said the armed forces mainly conducted technical evaluations in making procurement recommendations to the defence ministry.
He urged the government to take a serious look into the flaws of the defence procurement system and introduce strict controls.
Another analyst, Lam Choong Wah, said there should be more openness, with military arms deals screened by a parliamentary committee and audited by the auditor-general.
Lam said contractors with poor track records should be blacklisted and Boustead Naval Shipyard “must not be appointed again” after its poor handling of two major naval projects.
The two analysts were commenting on a parliamentary report on the troubled RM9 billion littoral combat ship project. The report said none of the six ships ordered had yet to be completed, although scheduled for delivery between 2019 and this year.
Daniel said defence interests were often not the first consideration as there were overriding national interests such as the need to develop local industries, economic growth, diplomacy and trade.
He called for defence interests to be given greater consideration.
“The problem is that for the better part of nearly half a century, defence spending has almost always been subject to the priorities of national interest and development,” he said.
“Competing priorities for the purse strings and limited means mean we need to balance what little we have for the military against funds for development, health, education and other socio-economic priorities.”
With that said, he noted that this did not mean giving the military complete control over the procurement of assets, maintaining that there must be due diligence, accountability, and civilian oversight.
“Unless the government is prepared to take a serious look at the flaws of our defence procurement systems – how the local defence industry is basically a patronage machine – and introduce strict accountability processes and costs on those who fail to deliver, then this nonsense will just happen again,” he said, in a reference to the LCS controversy.
While wastage and cost overruns could never be totally prevented, Daniel said having proper oversight processes would minimise them and ensure those behind malpractices are held accountable.
Lam, a former fellow at the Research for Social Advancement Centre, said legal action should be taken against those at fault for the wastage and delays in the LCS project, adding that this was needed to deter others from repeating the same mistakes.
“Defence companies with a poor track record should be blacklisted. BNS, who also failed in the New Generational Patrol Vessel project, must not be appointed again,” he told FMT.
He also called for defence purchases to be done via open tender and for the government’s asset procurement allocation to be revealed item by item in the annual federal budget. “It should not be shrouded in secrecy.”
National Patriots Association president Brig-Gen (Rtd) Mohamed Arshad Raji said Putrajaya must ensure that assets procured met the military’s requirements, describing Malaysia’s defence procurement as “a mess”.
“I don’t understand how the Treasury can release the money. Do they know what they are paying for?” he said.
This article was first published in Free Malaysia Today, 9 August 2022.