Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 31 March 2017

The French President Francois Hollande was here recently on a charm offensive to persuade Prime Minister Najib Razak to buy their multi-billion defence equipment, namely, the Dassault Aviation SA’s Rafale fighter jets. The Rafale is seen as a frontrunner as Malaysia looks to buy up to 18 jets in a deal potentially worth more than RM9 billion. That’s not bad going considering the French had already succeeded in selling their two Scorpene submarines to Malaysia for more than RM7 billion, the biggest single defence purchase by Malaysia to date.

The French have even started advertising their ‘Rafale’ fighter jets in our mainstream newspapers, competing for the attention of Malaysian consumers alongside the bargains offered by ‘Giant’ and ‘Tesco’. British Aerospace is also competing for a slice of Malaysia’s defence pie, trying to flog their ‘Typhoons’ in a RM10 billion deal they hope to clinch with a “Buy 1 – Get 1 free” gambit. The French are desperate to sell their arms because sixty per cent of their exports are made up of arms! They obviously have not heeded the wise words of their litterateur Albert Camus who said, “Peace is the only battle worth waging.”

The key question is whether Malaysia actually needs any of these fabulous toys, considering the cost of fighter jets is spiraling way out of control and such “toys” are so quickly obsolete? Malaysian taxpayers need to be wary of this latest and record breaking arms deal. Let us not forget the scandal over alleged commissions in that Scorpene submarines deal which led to the grisly murder of the Mongolian lass Altantuya. And let us hope that Michele Yeoh’s Legion d’Honneur is the only deserved sweetener in this deal…

RM500m per fighter jet?

According to Bank Negara, Malaysia’s total external debt has risen to RM 909bil in 2016, which is equal to 73.9% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). This raises a red flag about whether we can afford such levels of defence spending at all and importantly, is what we are spending allocated wisely on arms priorities considering our debt situation?

Malaysian taxpayers deserve answers to these key questions: Are multi-role combat aircraft our priority at the moment considering the latest state-of-the-art (US) F35s cost at least half a billion ringgit a piece? And if the most advanced US-made fighter jet, the F35 ‘Raptors’ cost more than RM500 million, should these French Rafaels similarly cost more than RM500 million? Can we see some competitive offers from the other arms merchants of the Gripen and the Typhoons?

Our Defence Ministry says it is planning is to replace the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s (RMAF) squadron of Russian MiG-29 combat planes, nearly half of which are grounded. Can we have a report on the relative performances of our MiGs, Sukhois, Hawks and F18s all these years so we can understand why nearly half these MiGs are grounded? Can we also have an audit report on the compatibility of our bizarrely diverse Russian, British, US (and now French?) fighter jets and especially the compatibility of their avionic systems? What lessons do our past purchase choices hold for our future fighter jet procurements?

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has said Malaysia’s defence spending will continue to grow as our armed forces have embarked on a long-term plan to modernise and upgrade their equipment and that a total of RM26 billion had been allocated under the 11th Malaysia Plan for defence, public order and enforcement.

Who are Malaysia’s enemies and what appropriate weaponry do we need?

One would think that this is the first question the Ministry of Defence would ask in the multi-billion decisions to procure armaments. Yet our National Defence Policy has never been properly debated in parliament. One of the rare moments we got to use our F18 fighter bombers and Hawk 208 fighter jets was against those invaders described by the Defence Minister as a “rag-tag army” at Lahad Datu a few years ago.  Wouldn’t armoured cars and tanks and mortars have sufficed in that four square kilometer area of land against that motley crew?

What are our priorities for naval defence?

When the bombardment began at Lahad Datu, it was mentioned that the navy had formed a cordon to prevent the intruders from getting away. It was clear that there never was a cordon to prevent any intruders from getting INTO Sabah all these years. Looking at the geography of the area, our two submarines built by the French DCNS sitting pretty at Sepanggar Bay and our six New Generation Patrol Vessels (costing RM9 billion) were not the most suitable vessels in the circumstances. It brings to mind the question of the appropriate vessels that should be the priority for our navy.

As part of the RM5 billion arms deal signed between Dr Mahathir and Margaret Thatcher in 1989, we procured two corvettes built by the Yarrow shipbuilders costing RM2.2 billion. (NST, 11.11.91) At the time, the Royal Malaysian Navy said they required sixteen offshore patrol vessels but due to financial constraints, the RMN could only afford four or five of these locally-built OPVs. Mindef had budgeted RM85 million per OPV. (NST, 25.11.91) Now, in the light of the latest incident at Lahad Datu, Malaysians will be in a better position to see the appropriate vessels that would be more suitable to secure the Sabah coastline.

Before the Lahad Datu incident, our main “enemies” testing the capacity of our armed forces were the pirates in the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. There were no bigger “enemies” than those seafaring marauders. Are state-of-the-art fighter jets and submarines the appropriate weaponry against pirates? These would likewise be inappropriate if “international terrorists” and suicide bombers choose to target Malaysia.

“Rising tensions in the South China Sea”

We are now told that Malaysia wants to revamp of its aging naval fleet in the face of threats from rising tensions in the South China Sea. Malaysia’s navy aims to replace all 50 vessels in its aging fleet and this will be led by the procurement of four littoral mission ships (LMS) built in collaboration with China. The deal is worth more than RM1 billion.

One would imagine that by its reference to “rising tensions”, the Malaysian Government is referring to China’s claims to the disputed islands in the South China Sea. So if China is seen as a possible “enemy”, should China have a hand in the building of these littoral mission ships? It seems a very strange logic in justifying the purchase of these four warships. Or are the ASEAN countries also seen as possible “enemies” since there is an unspoken arms race among the ASEAN countries through the years which merely exhausts the hard-earned resources of our peoples. Indonesia’s total defence spending has jumped around 26 percent, and Thailand’s military government has just approved a $389.05 million submarine deal with China.

The Malaysian Navy is reported to be in the final stages of negotiations with French shipbuilder DCNS to build the larger littoral combat ships (LCS), three new multi-role support ships (MRSS) and two more submarines. Knowing the bill for the two Scorpene submarines was more than RM7 billion, Malaysian taxpayers should be prepared for the worst.

So, exactly how are decisions made in the Ministry of Defence to purchase the submarines, the corvettes, the frigates instead of more patrol boats to guard our coastlines?

With our external debt spiraling towards RM1 trillion, Malaysian taxpayers would do well to question the government’s defence priorities and to call on the government to justify the next multi-billion arms procurements with full transparency. Malaysians need to be reminded that with RM1 billion, we can build at least 1000 rural schools or 100 district hospitals. (Note: We only have just over 1000 Chinese primary schools and just over 500 Tamil schools today!)


Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 31 March 2017

As the 14th Malaysian general election looms, it is almost comical to see aging politicians still trying to justify their “right” to stand for elections even while they clamour for “change” in the political order. They cite political conspiracies by their political opponents to justify hogging their electoral seats. Some have been in Parliament since the era of the Tunku – half a century ago! During that time, UMNO (hardly the paragon of democracy) has changed party leaders five times! It is no coincidence that these long term political leaders exert control over their respective political parties to ensure all prospective party candidates is beholden to them. They argue that they are indispensable and even justify their right to selectively hold both federal as well as state seats.

The late Karpal Singh was a stern opponent of this grabby practice by established party leaders of hogging federal as well as state seats. His famous line when a former DAP stalwart left the party was: “No one is indispensable.” That surely applies to everyone in the world. Or are some people exempt from this mortal truism?

Why are term limits vital for democracy?

Clearly, many Malaysians still do not appreciate the meaning of democracy. During the historic Paris Commune of 1871, elected officials were subject to immediate recall.  In ancient Greece more than 2000 years ago, many offices were term limited so as to limit the power of individuals, a practice that was seen as vital for the greater good of society. Even in other democratic countries, we see responsible and honourable politicians resign at the slightest failure of judgement on their part or when their term has reached a convenient point for some other younger leader to take over the party.

Many modern republics employ term limits for their highest offices. The United States place a limit of two terms on its presidency while some state governors and state legislators also have term limits. The Russian Federation likewise limits the head of state to two terms; any further terms cannot be consecutive.

The democratic justification for this term limit is simply that elected officials can over time obtain too much power or authority and thus makes them less representative of all the citizens. The democratic principle behind term limit is that no one person should have too much power nor for too long. The concept of term limits minimizes the amount of power any one person can gain over a period of time.

Preventing chances of corruption

As we have seen only recently, even within the two-term service, corporate interests including those in property and finance can provide inducements to the incumbent especially when they have developed familiar relations over time. There is clearly a correlation between the length of time a politician serves and the degree to which he/she has opportunities to engage in corruption. The principle of term limits has always been applied to the civil service which is why civil servants and police personnel are transferred every so often to prevent the acquisition of power and inducements to corruption in any one post.

Term limits would make this less likely since there is less time that a politician can be influenced by the power of the office that they hold. Corporate interests cannot become as entrenched when term limits are in place. With term limitations, corporate influence still happens, but not to the extent that it can when such interests develop unhealthy relationships with career politicians who are in office for a long time.

Preventing careerism

In a democracy, elected representatives are supposed to represent the interests of the citizens. As most politicians will tell us when they are interviewed, their work is supposed to be a service to society as a whole. Being a Member of Parliament or State Representative is not a profession even though it has become a career for many people. In fact, elected officials should operate on the understanding that they are only serving the people for a period of time until it is someone else’s turn. Term limits ensure that their representatives focus more on representing the public than on hogging the office and power.

Providing leadership opportunities for others

Democracy and organizational development are about providing diverse opportunities to as many people as possible and especially to the young, women, indigenous people and the marginalized. In our society, there are so many individuals with untapped potential for leadership as if that is not clear for all to see. In recent years, we have seen the surge of many young capable leaders in politics, including women from various ethnic origins.

Even the ancient sage Laozi could appreciate what true leadership is: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” Isn’t this a far cry from the aging leaders whose delusion of self-importance makes them cling to power?

Let’s face it, the number of available seats in the federal parliament and state assemblies are strictly limited. To have served four terms in parliament is a reasonable limit and allows new candidates to make themselves known to their constituents and have a go at representing the people. Term limits will create the opportunity for younger people to get elected to public office. Modern society needs service-oriented young people in different elected positions, providing diversity and strength to the citizenry. A wider pool of candidates also gives voters a wider choice of new people and new dynamic ideas.

Overdue democratic reform for Malaysia

Thus, this democratic principle of term limits for elected officials is to ensure that no one person can hold a position of control or power for an indefinite period of time. This is also to allow and encourage more young people to have the opportunity to become leaders in the political process. This urgent democratic reform for Malaysia should therefore limit the terms of ALL elected officials, namely, that of the Prime Minister, Chief Minister or Menteri Besar to two terms, and that of Members of Parliament and ADUNs to four terms.