An Open Letter to The Prime Minister On Defence (Pak Lah)

SHAH ALAM: Dear Sir,
Congratulations on winning your second term in office. I believe it is time to stop the celebrations even with the losses suffered and take a hard look at the defence sector which had been on the sidelines for the last three decades despite being one of the most money generating sector of the economy.

Why are we talking about defence, when there are so many other pressing matters in the country? Because without a stable and well maintained security apparatus in place and a very well thought out long term strategy, the country’s very existence would be in doubt, no matter what other achievement might take place elsewhere.

So far we have been lucky but in the last thirty years, we have seen so many resources and energies wasted but at the same time the tired excuse that “funds are not available” are given whenever a military requirement are not met or reduced to the bare minimum. The same excuse is also given to justify purchasing a piece of kit already rejected by the services themselves. I believe funds have and are available but within the last three decades in has been thrown into the ring without too much care and over sight.

When we first became independent from the British, we were lucky that it was rather peaceful without the ruinous civil wars that so many other contemporaries had experienced. Nonetheless the ill-fated Ganyang Malaysia campaign became a turning point towards a more self reliant nation. The communist insurgency was being fought with the available means but a forward looking government embarked on a modernisation drive of the armed forces which have yet to emulated in terms of capability, budgetary and long term vision.

It was during this time the Nuri, Alouette and the original Kedah-class patrol boats were purchased. Almost 40 years later, the last remaining airframes and vessels are still being used to defend our borders. After this initial purchase, during and after oil shock decade of the 70s another round of very wise arms procurement was initiated. Some of the arms purchase during these period, the M16A1, the Oto-Melara howitzers and the Commando APCs were purchase and like the 60s, most are still in service today. During both times, money were tight but somehow we managed to make do even as we provided the best for the other sectors.

The 80s which brought the end of the communism insurgency brought along with it the so-called peace dividends but sadly not in terms of capability and return of investment. A long list of arms purchased during these period saw us losing more money than the previous years. Most of these assets were retired within a few years of introduction. Coupled with the rash privatisation of the defence industry led directly to the current state of affairs.

The Armed Forces, understandably, has become almost a joke and an institution of the last resort. The voluntary but important Territorial Army is floundering without a reason and purpose. a national service which bleeds money without return and a defence industry, that is sucking the life and soul from the very own sector that is sustaining it.

The defence of the country should be a national interest but never “National Interest” to some and others while many of our country men risked their life and soul, leaving their family and loved ones for months on end for duty and honour. It is easy to blame the individual policeman and soldier for looking the other way but when the three star spent hours in the golf links while the industrialist sits quietly in the over-priced corporate office and marking up by 50 per cent the price of a screw, it is never seen as another betrayal.

As the PM of the country, sir, you should also see the trees and the forest at the same time. It is time for us to stop and look what had happened in the 50 years to find the right path for defence for the sake of the country. It will not be an easy task and even I must admit that I do not have all the answers but if we all work together we might find a solution to fix them.

Arms procurement should not be seen as just the narrow scope of just what benefits it will bring to the country and the cost of the purchase. Benefits and profits will follow if the needs of the end user is fully adhered to. Any compromise will only bring disruptions and any short term benefit and return would always return to haunt us in the future. A kick in the butt is always better than just flapping around.

This principle must be the guiding light even as oversight and long term strategy of the country defence remains under the government of the day. Do no confused political expediency with over sight and control, it will never work hand in hand.

Understandably, the country’s development takes precedent but the feast and famine approach to defence in the last three decades have not been a resounding success either. By committing the country’s defence budget in a sensible manner in accordance to the country’s growth, the sector would not be facing the current predicament as it is.

Any procurement must take into account the current and future needs, with the emphasis towards long term capabilities and operational efficiency. By enforcing the budget on a yearly basis, not only for operational and developmental purposes, would in the same time forced financial discipline to the level best thereby enhancing capabilities and skills of the armed forces.

In a world where a multi-bilion assets goes obsolete within months, financial considerations must also be nimble and transparent at the same time. Decisions must be taken quickly within the limit of set guidelines and specifications. A knee-jerk reaction to any given situation must be avoided at all.

With manpower shortage set to plague the defence sector, it is imperative for the government to overhaul the smosgabod of voluntary bodies and merged them into the country’s second line of defence with the national service as the training ground.

Instead of having various bodies for the military, police and civil defence, a unified command working out from each district would certainly be a worthy addition to the country’s security needs.

All the changes proposed may yet need additional funds for a disciplined implementation. But I believe a ringgit spent today towards overhauling the defence sector would be a ringgit saved for tomorrow. I admit that funds are so precious today that every ringgit spent today must be accounted for at least 10 years unlike those spend previously.

Is the task easy? Of course, all transformations are difficult. But without the needed changes, the writing is on the wall just like the country’s own future.

Malaysian Defence

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Shah Alam

4 Comments

  1. I think the PM is too busy contemplating his own political survival to read your letter. 😛

  2. You’re missing the crux of the matter, namely that the force structure in place, particularly within the Army, does not meet our current or future defense requirements. The sheer size of the Army is crippling it’s efforts to modernize and innovate. It is tied to a force structure that is a legacy of the Communist insurgency period with an inordinate number of infantry battalions that today languish in garrison in the main and suck up desperately needed manpower needed elsewhere. A rational and dispassionate appraisal of the nation’s security needs and the most efficient means to achieve them is nigh impossible due to deeply entrenched branch loyalties and considerations of prestige and status.

    As long as ‘National interest’ is an overriding in procurement and defense expenditure, then we are destined ever to be the crazy patchwork of mismatched equipment and capabilities that is full of semangat and not much else. As long as MINDEF believes that opacity in their transactions is in its interest, their activities will ever be viewed with a wary and sceptical eye by the citizens and taxpayers (a.k.a. the Rakyat).

    This Parliament will be most interesting. It will be of great interest how the Kem Kementah will rise to the occasion.

  3. I know that the PM has other things to consider but its a matter of putting some of my thoughts on the table. I can always refer to it in the near future.

    Actually on the AEW platform, we at least a squadron but its too expensive to buy the Wedgetails at current price. For that matter even the Screwtops (Hawkeye D or theSaab version) is too expensive.
    The Embraer version, has too many Israeli things on board to be a serious contender, from discussions I had with air force officials.

    As I said funds is available if we took a serious look into the current and future needs of the armed forces. Meester T says the army has too many people, to begin within of which I disagree. The number of maybe big but the amount of force that could be generated remained below par.

    That is why in earlier posts, I suggest a new army structure based on what I now called the Malaysian Combat Force. It is basically a similar structure to a US Marines MEU.

    The letter is of course is incomplete. There are way to many thieves out there! The PM can contact me if he wished further clarification! Hint! Hint!

  4. Marhalim… even with the improved pay and benefits, it’s very hard for an enlisted man to make ends meet, particularly if he has a family. many of them moonlight out of necessity. Especially in KL, where costs are higher and expectations are also elevated. It is tolerated by the leadership because it means they don’t have to deal with it. In many ways it is commendable since the alternative is of course corrupt and fraudulent behavior.

    Your typical married enlisted man has a huge chunk of his paycheck taken out to pay for his Hire Purchase motorbike/car, electrical/household appliances etc. all bought from PERNAMA, the armed forces store. The sad thing is that PERNAMA, which is owned by LTAT charges commercial HP rates, which exceed even credit card charges. So the Service Store set up to help servicemen with their living costs is making a hefty return on the credit business.

    Treasury has consistently refused to increase the basic pay and allowances of armed forces personnel to be in line with civil service ranks. Faced with this impasse, the only way to fund an increase in living standards for the nation’s fighting men is to reduce their numbers while fighting tooth and nail to retain the total budget.

    This has not happened for a lot of reasons, including the natural tendency defend hard built empires and that of prestige.

    Forget about the cool gear and neat toys. We have a festering social problem within the armed forces who are not being treated fairly at the mass of lower ranks. We ask these men to hazard life and limb for king and country and yet refuse to pay them as well as other civil servants. That is wrong and in the absence of a trillion bbls of oil under KL, then the services must be scaled to a sustainable size while treating the lowest ranks in a just and dignified manner.

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