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Monday, September 12, 2011

Is Malaysia ready for war

Sulaiman Kamal | 1:37 PM | | | Best Blogger Tips

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Grouses about bribery and corruption in the Malaysian armed forces, in particular in the procurement of arms, have been a long-standing issue but given the extraordinarily huge purchases made in the past decade, it has reached a stage where national attention must be given to the subject.
Security is obviously at stake. Billions upon billions have been spent but has the army, navy and air force really been comprehensively integrated and upgraded, or have the Malaysian authorities merely bought a bunch of expensive toys? These are questions that are timely for the public to demand answers to.

The need to spend tax-payers money to procure military equipment is something Malaysians should be very careful about. Not only is it costly but the reason to purchase military equipment seems to have no logic nor sense.
With an annual budget of RM11 billion, why is it that Malaysia is to spend RM15 billion over the span of 5 years in acquiring military hardware? Where is the money coming from? With an already slowing economy and the government moving towards cutting subsidies in vital consumer items, the need to purchase military hardware is moving ahead at full throttle.
The rot in Malaysian military spending can be broken up into two main points. One, hidden costs paid out to subcontractors who remain a mystery to the public and two, decisions that are more political or personal rather than strategic.
Inflated pricing and out-of-the-blue 'maintenance'
Malaysian military spending is fraught with over-blown pricing and cost overruns that seem to increase as the purchasing process goes along. Take for instance the Malaysian government’s recent purchase of six New Generation Patrol Vessels (NGPVs) costing RM6 billion. When they were first announced in 1993, the 27 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) to be built at the Lumut dockyard were supposed to cost just RM4 billion! The inflated pricing is further justified by references to the cost to have sophisticated hardware and weaponry. Yet, is it not the responsibility of the government to ensure that the purchase of these boats remain within the realm of affordability?
The real reason for the inflated pricing can be inferred from the Prime Minister's own statement when he stated that there was a need to commission a second batch of NGPVs from the same shipyard (Boustead) that produced the six OPVs. Speaking in economic terms he noted that the order would help the 2,000 subcontractors who depended on the shipyard yet, in a statement upon receiving the six OPVs, the Defence Ministry said that there were precisely 632 vendors in the shadow of Boustead. The government and the Defence Ministry have a problem with simple arithmetic that even the number of subcontractors attached to their projects are confusing.
This is what accounts for the inflated cost of Malaysian military purchasing, there are hidden costs that need to be paid-out to ‘subcontractors’ who number into the thousands. So there was no surprise when additional money was needed to service the two submarines, an additional requirement that was outside the tabled 2010 budget. An additional allocation of RM493.3million was given, raising the ministry’s budget to a total of RM11billion. Why was the maintenance cost not factored into the initial military budget for 2010 nor was there any mention of it when the subs were first bought in 2002? This is not a cost over-run of RM4.933 million but RM493.3 million; it is an elephant in the room. Did the defence ministry forget to pay some of their ‘subcontractors’?
Cuts in manpower to 'save' money
Hidden costs in Malaysian military purchases are further compounded by the very way money is recorded in the budget. Budget documentation breaks out defence spending into an operational budget and a development budget. So when the government says that the military budget has been reduced, which budget are they referring to? The army is already facing significant cuts in manpower of around 30 per cent, partly in order to help fund these acquisitions. A lowering of the operational budget in order to line the pockets of military ‘subcontractors’ would seriously pose a threat to national security.
Yet, this seems to be the trend. In its pursuit to purchase more advanced weaponry, Malaysia is reducing its military manpower. There may come a time when we have too much equipment than soldiers to man them. And even if there is already too much fat in existence as far as the army 'payrolls' go, what is the benefit of the saving if it is only to be shifted to the other hand and into the pockets of the subcontractors, who are usually the political cronies.
Compromised by politicians not external enemies
The second point is a far deeper rot. The military institution in Malaysia has been deeply compromised, not by enemy elements, but rather by the politics of the day. Are decisions made based on military strategy or by personal or political biases?
Strategically, Malaysia has to strengthen its borders defences, particularly along the Thai peninsula and along the Sarawak/Sabah inland stretch. These are porous regions and geographically hard to reach areas. No doubt, the federal government has to take into account that Malaysia’s enemy would fight a conventional war, yet these are unconventional times and wars are fought in regions that Malaysia is ill-prepared for.
For instance, is Malaysia ready for a cyber-war? As evident in the hacker group Anonymous threat to attack several websites in Malaysia in response to the government’s demonisation of Bersih, Malaysia is ill-prepared for a cyber-war. Several government websites resorted to, literally, pulling out the power plugs on their servers. And while we zip around in our OPVs, Sukhoi and Scorpene submarines, our Internet and communications services have to be disabled. Does it make sense?
Then, is Malaysia ready for attacks on its economy?
Could Malaysia sustain itself if Thailand stops all exports of rice to Malaysia? Would Malaysia be able to sustain a land, air, sea and cyber offensive if Indonesia decides to overrun it? Could Sabah withstand an internal offensive if Filipino immigrants in the state stage a cohesive push to return Sabah to the Philippines?
Is Malaysia ready for war?
So is Malaysia strategically ready for a full blown war? The answer is an ominous 'No'. Though we may be spending huge amounts of tax-payers money in purchasing military hardware, we are strategically crippled when the need comes. Do we have enough transport vehicles to transport our troops within the country? Do we have enough equipment to sustain a jungle warfare scenario ala Vietnam? Is the government seriously ready to handle a military crisis?
Thus, military spending in Malaysia is a field of bribery and corruption. Money is spent on everything and nothing at the same time. Huge amounts of money are spent on equipment with seriously inflated prices, and additional money is pumped in to sustain the upkeep of ‘subcontractors’ who service the ministry of Defence.
It seems that we are own enemy when it comes to the defence of our country as long as the rot of corruption is allowed to stay entrenched in the military.

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