KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 16 — Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said today he would convey to the Cabinet the Senate’s motion that a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) be formed to probe the allegation of irregularities in the procurement of six navy littoral combat ships (LCS) by Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn Bhd (BNS).
The move comes after most Dewan Negara members unexpectedly backed the motion that was filed by Senator Lim Hui Ying of DAP, who called for the commission to be formed given the issue has become a major scandal on a scale that critics have likened to the 1MDB fiasco.
In its report released on August 8, Parliament’s bipartisan watchdog Public Accounts Committee (PAC) noted that BNS has not delivered a single ship despite having been paid over RM6 billion to build the vessels, originally scheduled to be ready by this month.
The total value of the project has now ballooned to RM9.128 billion based on a 10-year contract from 2013 to 2023 for the supply of the six LCS.
“With the motion tabled and debated, it has given me, as the current defence minister, the opportunity to table (my explanation), whether it would be approved wallahualam (only God will know). But I am responsible for informing the public about how we plan to take this issue forward,” he said when winding up the debates.
“Our plan, if we can agree, is the LCS project must continue. If we agree that there is an issue of malpractice, those found guilty must be brought to justice. This includes myself, but it must be through the right process... I must also face justice.
“But the investigation is ongoing, and God willing, we shall arrive at a point where we will know who are the real culprits. For me, moving forward, I want to help TLDM to receive those ships, as stated under the 15-5 Transformation Plan, to help the vendors involved, and at the same time, to get information like whether to declassify... and the RCI as raised by members of the Senate, I will bring to the Cabinet.”
TLDM is the Malay abbreviation for Royal Malaysian Navy.
Dewan Negara Speaker Tan Sri Rais Yatim appeared to have made a milestone ruling by allowing Lim’s motion to be debated, a decision that departed from past practices that tended to suppress any attempt by members of the Opposition to scrutinise major scandals that implicated the ruling coalition through urgent motions.
Rais had allocated half an hour for the debate, which started close to 5pm, joined by close to a dozen senators.
“These ships should have been delivered and it has become more urgent now that our waters in the South China Sea are constantly being trespassed by Chinese vessels. Singapore owns more than a dozen warships. Are we not ashamed of our neighbours?” said Senator Muhammad Zahid Md Arip from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, who then suggested Boustead had been given “special treatment.”
“When is the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) going to charge people when names have been listed in the PAC report? Rhetoric just to placate an angry public isn’t enough. They are waiting to see action taken. The MACC must act quickly, transparently, and firmly,” said Senator Datuk Kesavadas Achyuthan Nair of DAP.
Both senators were among those who supported the motion for the RCU to be formed. From then 10 senators who participated in the debate, only Senator Tan Sri Mohamad Fatmi Che Salleh of Umno disagreed with the push for an inquiry, although he supported stern action against anyone found guilty.
Hishammuddin, responding to the criticism, repeatedly pledged that he would do “my best” to find answers.
Still, the minister stressed more than a dozen times that he was more keen about “looking forward” and prioritising solving the quagmire so that the project continues, the ships are delivered and businesses that have depended on the project can avert insolvency.
The Ministry of Defence, he asserted, is now in talks with all parties to expedite the ships’ delivery.
“If we want to continue polemicising the issue, there won’t be any ending. I won’t look back,” he said.
“I believe what I’ve done as the defence minister is I have tried to table what is best and God willing, in the near future, at least the first ship could be delivered according to the (new) schedule,” the minister continued.
“I understand people are saying the money’s disappeared, equipment is dilapidated and that only small fish, and not sharks, will be prosecuted.
“But I say time will prove that if we are sincere about solving this LCS issue, for as long as I am defence minister, I will see through all the promises that I have made in this House today.”
This morning former Boustead Heavy Industries Corp Bhd managing director and former admiral of the Navy Tan Sri Ahmad Ramli Mohd Nor claimed trial to abusing his position by offering contracts for the RM9.13 billion procurement of littoral combat ships, the first top-ranked person to be charged in relation to the scandal.