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.
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