Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, Suaram Adviser 15 Feb 2018

BAE Systems’ offer to provide Malaysia a UK government-backed financing deal if it decides to replace its fleet of combat jets with the Eurofighter Typhoon should alert Malaysian voters to make this multi-billion ringgit purchase an election issue.

Malaysia has been weighing France’s Rafale jet and the Eurofighter Typhoon, built by a European consortium including Britain’s BAE, as it looks to buy up to 18 jets to replace its Russian MiG-29s,  most of which are grounded.

Malaysian voters should know that this procurement is worth more than RM10 billion and will be one of the biggest fighter deals under consideration in Asia. Such arms purchases are usually made soon after an election victory by the Malaysian government so it should be made an election issue. We know that this is a BN government plan but what is Pakatan Harapan’s stand on such purchases? Does PH have a defence policy that is different from BN’s? Will they also be shopping for these fighter jets if they ever come into office? What will their defence budget be?

With GE14 just round the corner, both coalitions should be debating such issues in order to let voters know how they intend to spend our money. In the British and US elections for example, defence spending was a major issue. Why isn’t defence spending and policy an issue in Malaysia when our resources are so much scarcer compared to these big economies?

Britain should not forget the Arms for Aid scandal of 1994. Towards the end of the eighties, Margaret Thatcher signed a GBP1 billion (RM5 billion) arms deal with Mahathir. It was later revealed that this arms deal was tied to the aid for the Pergau Dam project which is prohibited by British law and standards and it was a major scandal in Britain at the time.

Do we need these fabulous toys?

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.

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 must ask whether such multi-role combat aircraft are 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 BAE Typhoons or French Rafaels cost more than RM500 million a piece?

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 maybe 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?

A total of RM26 billion has 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?

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.

With our external debt spiraling towards RM1 trillion, Malaysian taxpayers would do well to question both coalitions as to their defence priorities and to call on them to justify the next multi-billion arms procurements with full transparency. Malaysians need to be reminded that with RM10 billion, we can build at least 10,000 rural schools or 1000 district hospitals. (Note: We only have just over 1000 Chinese primary schools and just over 500 Tamil schools today!)