DAP calls for a two-pronged policy to reduce the economic burden of defence

Speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat during the Committee Stage debate on Ministry of Defence on 22th January 1973

DAP calls for a two-pronged policy to reduce the economic burden of defence by introducing compulsory national service and giving secondary civilian economic function to the armed forces

Years by years, the expenditures for the Ministry of Defence increase by leaps and bounds.

In 1965, the operating expenses of the Ministry of the Defence was $207 million. For this year, the operating expenses is $580 million, a three-fold increase. Even if we take into account the transfer this year from the development expenditure into the operating expenses, the increase in the recurrent annual expenditure in the last eight years is more than doubled.

This is a very serious state of affairs, as defence is one of the major items of government expenditure. If defence expenditures are allowed to increase yearly unchecked and unrestrained, the proper social, economic and educational development of the people and country are going to be distorted and retarded. Thus, as an example, there was a Ministry of Housing eight years ago, but today, there is hardly and funds allocated to the provision of housing for the millions of homeless in the country.

While we appreciate the need for an adequate defence system in the country, the government must resist the temptation to have a big and prestigious army forces, and should take steps to reduce the economic burden of defence in the country.

Firstly, the government should exercise a strict control over the defence budget and take a policy decision not to allow defence expenditure to increase by leaps and bounds every year.

Secondly, to reduce the economic burden of defence, the government should cut down the overhead cost of maintaining a large standing army. The government should adopt the economically cheaper device of introducing compulsory national service for all Malaysian youths, for a period of two years. There can therefore be a smaller standing army.

A people’s militia, made up of two-year compulsory national service for all Malaysian youths, will be superior to a large standing army in three aspects: Economically, this will be cheaper than having to maintain a large standing army. Further, compulsory national service will turn every Malaysian into an able defender of the country in time of national need. By putting Malaysian youths through the common crucible of two years of national service, Malaysians of diverse races, cultures and backgrounds can come together and foster the growth of a common identity and consciousness. This can be a very great contribution to nation building.

Thirdly, the government should give to the standing armed forces secondary civilian economic functions, as in rural development, road-building and other public building projects, adult education and other social work so that the armed forces are involved economically and socially in the development of the country.

From the details given in the 1973 Federal Government Expenditure Budget, the objectives of the Ministry of Defence are given as follows:

(a) To provide for the defence of the nation against external threat and aggression;
(b) To maintain the security of the nation against internal threat and aggression;
(c) To support the Police and Civil Authorities in the maintenance of law and order and in ensuring that the authority of the lawful government of the country is effectively imposed;
(d) To make provision for the security of lines of communication between and within Malaysian territories; and
(e) To counter piracy and coastal raiding.

For Malaysia, the main duty of Malaysian defence forces is likely to remain that of maintaining the security of the nation against external threat and aggression and upholding the authority of the lawful government of the country.

In this battle, however, the armed forces can only play an auxiliary role, as seen by the example of Vietnam, where all the firepower, bombs, B52s, wealth and ground troops of a super power could not crush a puny but pugnacious Asian nation. Basically, the issue must be resolved politically, economically and in the hearts and minds of the people.

Any action which strengthens the democratic process in the country will add to the viability and defensibility of the nation and the legally constituted government.

In this connection, we welcome by-elections because it is an indication of the workings of a democratic process. But we must warn that such election or by-elections must be conducted honestly if the people are not to lose faith in the entire democratic process. The by-election in Kuala Kedah is a good instance, which will not strengthen the viability and defensibility of the democratic process, but weaken it.

The Kuala Kedah by-election is one of the dirtiest electoral campaigns conducted by the Alliance in election history. Thus, apart from the usual intimidation of voters and the unrestrained character assassinations, on polling day, the Alliance election workers flooded the constituency with tens of thousands of a fake appeal purported to be signed by the Independent candidate, Cik Siti Nor Binti Hamid Tuah, and his father Hamid Tuah, urging the people to vote the Alliance.

The fake letter reads:

“We, Hamid Tuah and Siti Nor Binti Hamid Tuah (Independent candidate) who are opposing the Alliance candidate in the Kuala Kedah Parliamentary by-election urge the voters to vote Alliance (Sailing boat).

“We realise that we have been made used of as pawns by opposition parties to betray the race and national unity of our Malaysia.

“Vote Alliance (Sailing Boat) to free us from the chains of opposition parties who have all along opposed the struggle of our race.”

This carried the fake signature of Siti Nor and Hamid Tuah. This was distributed in tens of thousands on the last day of polling not to allow Siti Nor to rebut or expose the trickery and treachery of the act. The Alliance, and the new M.P. for Kuala Kedah, cannot disclaim responsibility for this dastardly act. It calls for explanation from not only the new M.P. but from the Alliance leaders, for how can we competently defend a system which has to be propped up by so discredited and despicable methods.