The $166 million “SPICA M” RMN fast strike craft scandal

Speech by ketua Pembangkang and DAP Sectary-General ,Lim Kit Siang, at the Selangor Guild of Graduates, University of Malaya, lunch on at Horizon Restaurant Kuala Lumpur, on Saturday, 21st August 1976 on “Malaysia – Democracy and Nation Building”

The $166 million “SPICA M” RMN fast strike craft scandal

Malaysia is entering her twentieth year of nationhood. This means that the first generation of Malaysians have grown up since Merdeka. The entire school and university-going population are the complete products of the national education policies of the government.

Nation building, by which I mean the creation by government of a cohesive political community characterised by an abiding sense of identity and common consciousness, is not a task which comes within the life seam of any one generation of political leaders.

The task of nation building for a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious people like Malaysia is going to be a long process, taking probably a few generation. But while national unity cannot be achieved within a generation, 20 years is a sufficiently long time for us to take stock of the success or failure of our nation building policies. For if we do not constantly take stock of our nation building policies. For if we do not constantly take stock of our nation building policies, Malaysia go down in history as one of the political entities created in this century which never completed the nation building process.

One would have expected that after 20 years of nation building a national education policy, we should be able to assert with some degree of confidence that the youths of today are more Malaysian conscious and minded than the youths of twenty years ago.

But can we truly say so. The reverse is in fact the case. Unlike the generation before, students today are more conscious of race, of being a ‘bumiputra’ and ‘non-bumiputra’. Of being a Malay or a non-Malay, for he as constantly reminded of this from primary school upwards. This consciousness is further heightened when they enter secondary schools, sit for L.C.E. and M.C.E. examinations, streamed into science or arts courses, chosen for different classes, and not least of all, in the scramble for every limited places in government H.S.C. classes and universities.

If evidence is needed that the seeds of nation building has borne bitter fruit, we need only refer to the increased process of emigration or intended emigration of professionals, especially doctors and dentists, including the young doctors who had gust graduated from the University of Malays – who are full of foreboding about the future, met for themselves, but for their children born and unborn.

Democracy an indispensable prerequisite to nation building in Malaysia

I do not propose to range far and wide on the subject of nation building but to confine myself to the argument that in Malaysia, democracy is an indispensable prerequisite to the success of making Malaysians out of the diverse races in the country.

I will even go further to state that one of the reasons for the failure in making appreciable headway in the task of nation building is because of the progressive erosion of democratic rights and undermining of the democratic structure of our society.

The Malaysian Constitution has since Merdeka in 1957 been amended on over 1000 places, the latest batch being made only last month.

The history of Constitutional amendments in Malaysia is the history of the progressive diminution of rights a liberties and not their enlargement.

A major assault on the Constitution and democracy was made in 1971, where freedom of speech was seriously curtailed even to the extent of taking away the parliamentary immunity of Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen in specified subjects which were classified as “sensitive”.

At that time, it was even argued that this was not an “absolute restriction” because the Prime Minister, the late Tun Razak, had announced the formation of the National Unity Council in which the problems of national unity may be discussed behind closed doors, and the ban on discussion of sensitive issues would not operate.

It is well known that any organ withers away if it is not used, and in the same way, the National unity Council has withered away from a later elevation to a Ministry and a subsequent relegation to the limbo of forgotten government department.

Malaysia under a Double State of Emergency

Since Merdeka, Malaysia has been taking the path of authoritarian government, though preserving the outward forms of Parliamentary democracy. There has been more and more repressive laws like the most recent amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act, which turned universities into High Schools.

We should learn from the lessons of other countries. The common means of introducing authoritarian system of government is by the use of reserve constitutional powers and the introduction of a permanent state of emergency.

The permanent state of emergency provides a legal basis for any subsequent institutional or judicial changes. It introduces a parallel systems of government, where on the one hand, it was used to create new institutions and to introduce new legal principles which draw their sole authority from the State f Emergency .on the other hand, it allowed the normal State of Emergency. On the other hand, it allowed the normal state machinery of government to co-exist where it could serve a useful purpose. The judiciary are neutralised and are required to apply draconian laws, which are unexceptional in their origins and clearly enforceable in constitutional terms. The end was an authoritarian police state.

In Malaysia, we have since 1963 lived in a permanent state of emergency, and since 1969, in a double state of permanent emergency. There are in Malaysia parallel systems of Government where Ordinances and Regulations introduce new legal principles which draw their sole authority from the State of Emergency, most notably the Essential (Security Cases) Regulations and Essential (Community Self-Reliance) Regulations.

For example, Essential (Community Self-Reliance) Regulations which were not passed by Parliament has introduced the questionable principle of group liability in criminal law, or punishing a man by inflicting penalties on members of his family.

The progressive erosion of democratic rights and the increase in the authoritarian features of government has been defended on the ground that democracy is a luxury that Malaysia cannot afford. Attention is drawn to Afro-Asian countries where more and more of them are discarding the democratic system of government.

If Malaysia should reach a stage where they are given a choice between an authoritiarian government which is corrupt, incompetent, its leaders dedicated to self-interests and the interests of the moneyed and propertied class, and an authoritarian government which is clean, incorrupt competent and its leaders dedicated to the lot of the masses, the people would prefer the latter.

In Malaysia, if we do not check our authoritarian trend of government, then the people will be afflicted with the former, an authoritarian government which is corrupt, incompetent, its leaders concerned only for itself and its own class.

In such a system, the corrupting influence of power and the greed of men would not be held in check either internally by an ideological fervour to subordinate self to masses or externally by the operation of checks and balances operative in a democratic society.

This would accentuate the problem of race and the problems of class, both of which are keys to the task of nation building, and in these circumstances, Malaysia would never complete her process of nation building.

Corrupting influence of power and greed of men

Already, we see round us too much evidence of the corrupting influence of power and the greed of men. Loyalty to the ruling party is equated with loyalty to the country. Many in authority identify their own well-being with the well-being of the country, and tend to see any threat to themselves as a threat to the future and unity of the country.

Self-interests are inflated into national interests, and to serve and advance oneself is to serve and advance the nation. Self and nation are assimilated as one, and the rot deepens.

Sometimes, the sense of what is right and what is wrong have become so lost that these actions are defended publicly.

I will give one instance. Beginning this year, every Barisan Nasional Member of Parliament is given $50000 a year for small development projects in his constituency. This money does not come from Barisan Nasional party funds, but from the Treasury – from public funds. Opposition MPs and their constituencies are openly discriminated against, although they pay equal taxes as other constituencies. In fact, opposition constituencies probably pay more taxes on average than Barisan Nasional constituencies!

Weakening of democratic forces and democratic institutions

These nationally divisive developments are the result of the weakening of democratic forces and democratic institutions. Important democratic institutions have either been circumscribed or rendered incapable of performing their functions.

An example of the former is Parliament itself the highest legislative chamber in the land.

The principle of sovereignty of Parliament has been seriously undermined with the existence of a permanent state of emergency, where the government enacted Ordinances and Regulations introducing new legal principles without resorting to Parliamentary approval.

An example of the latter is the Malaysia press. In any democratic nation, the press, known as the fourth estate, has an important role to play in being the guardian of public interest.

The press played the most important role in prying open the Watergate scandal in American and played no small role in the Lockheed scandal in Japan leading to the recent arrest and charge of former Premier Tamaka.

In Malaysian, because of the authoritarian system of government, through a combination of printing licensing and political pressures, the Malaysian press avoided the investigative and public protector’s role – which means in effect the propping up of the establish and status quo instead of reforming ad changing society for the better.

Democracy not synonymous with inefficiency, muddled action and corrupt practices

These is also the idea democracy is linked with inefficiency, muddled actions, and corrupt practices, while authoritarian ways are identified with clear thinking, purposeful action and firm dedication.

Malaysian politicians have sometimes sought to justify their weaknesses and their lack of standards on the ground that poor performance records are proof of commitment to democratic methods.

This is a great disservice to democracy, for firstly, inefficiency, muddled actions and corrupt practices are not unknown in authoritarian countries; and secondly, democratic systems of government should be able to develop effective safeguards against sins given the combination of a competent democratic leadership and a widespread popular participation in the process of government.

The 166 million SPICA M Scandal

I will give one instance to show how, given the proper functioning of democratic forces and institutions, muddled thinking, inefficiency, waste of public funds and even corruption could have been checked and rooted out – but where democratic forces and institutions have been weakened, abuse and misuse of power become rampant.

I will call this the $166 million SPICA M Royal Malaysian Navy Past Strike Craft Scandal.

In December last year, the Royal Malaysian Nay issued a tender for the construction of four missile Fast Strike Crafts to form the second strike squadron of the navy.

The first RMN strike squadron was formed in 1971 with the delivery of four “Combattante II” Fast Strike Crafts built by the renowned French shipyard, CMN (or Construction Mecaniques de Normandie, Cherbourg, France) and fitted with EXOCET missiles.

It would be of interest to note that Israel, known for their zea1 to get what is only the best in the world, ordered 12 of these Combatants, and when France refused in 1969 to deliver the last five because of a political embargo, the Israelies forcefully sailed them from the French shipyard on Christmas Eve 1969 to Israel in a much-publicised passage which proved the remarkable endurance of this class.

Ten shipyards tendered for the RMN Fast Strike Crafts early this year, and four tenderers were short-listed, namely, Hong Leong-Lurssen a local shipyard, Vosper Thornycroft of U.K., CMN of France and Karlskronavarvet of Sweden.

The RMN decided to award the tender to Karlskronavarvet of Sweden, for its four “SPICA M” Fast Strike Missile Craft. This has created all-round unhappiness in navy circles and surprise in international navy circles.

This is because in awarding the tender to Karlskronavarvet for its SPICA M Fast Strike Craft, the Royal Malaysian Navy has rejected internationally-acclaimed quality Fast Strike Craft which it had four in service and which is proven vessel and given full operational satisfaction to RMN, but had also selected a Swedish boat which is not in the service of any Navy in the world, including the Swedish Navy.

I understand that Karlskronavarvet has never built a missile ship of this particular class before, and that the SPICA M is a prototype or first if it’s kind to be built by the Swedish shipyard. Prototype productions are always dogged by production problems, in other words, Malaysia is the “guinea pig” for the Swedish shipyard to build SPICA M.

The classes of Fast Strike Crafts offered by Hong Leong-Lurssen shipyard and Vosper Thorneycroft are also generally recognised as belonging to the better class of vessels.

On 10th August, I wrote to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Dato Hussein Onn, asking him to review this award and to call for new tenders if necessary, but he has been so busy over the Non-aligned Conference and the visit to Burma, that I doubt he had the time to attend to it.

Apart from two high-ranking naval officers who are sponsoring the SPICA M project, the rest of the Navy officers are unhappy with the selection of the SPICA M. for reasons which include the following:

1. The Navy Evaluation Committee on the Crafts offered by the tenderers were unhappy with SPICA M, and had many reservations about it. However, the Evaluation Committee was sidestepped, and a Task Force, comprising two navy officers and one civilian, was formed which recommended the SPICA M to the tender Board. I understand that this is the first time that a Task Force for such a purpose had been formed to by-pass the Evaluation Committee.

2. When Karlskronavarvet first submitted its tender early this year, its tender price for the four SPICA M was $106 million. But when the RMN decided to award the tender to Karlskrona and issued of some 60 per cent of the price by $60 million in a short period of two months? And why did the RMN still went ahead with the award after this fantastic escalation in price?

3. The untested and unproven character of SPICA class of craft. The SPIC class of craft. The SPIC class was built to endure for three days’ operation and had never been tropicalised or used for long patrol periods in warm climates like Malaysia. The present Combattante class of Fast Strike Craft (FSC) of RMN are used on navy patrol cycles of 14 days at a stretch, because these vessels are used primarily for patrol purposes in Malaysian waters.

There are also other unsatisfactory features of the SPICA M with regard to the engine, weapons system, length of the ship, etc. which I shall not burden you with, as I have decided to such a meeting with the Prime Minister on this.

Here, however, is a clear case where two high-level naval officers have been able to ignore the considered opinions of virtually the rest of the RMN, and pushed through the purchase of four untested and unproven vessels which would cost the taxpayers $166 million. These four FSC are not the sole concern of the RMN alone, but of the Malaysian people, who have a right to know what is happening and all the facts!

The SPICA M affair is a good example of what I have in mind when I said that the checks and balances on the exercise of power in Malaysia has been weakened to the extent of allowing rampt irresponsibility since Merdeka.

Development of meaningful democratic processes

It is only with the development of meaningful democratic processes, both in form and substance, that the ruling group would show greater sensitivity not only to the interests of the nation, but equally important, to the different racial, religious and cultural groups. It is only through such greater sensitivity for such legitimate interests in the nation building process that would result in reduced tensions and encouraged all groups to feel that they have a stake in the nation and government.

I will therefore conclude with the thought that those who weaken the forces and institutions of democracy are not nation building, but nation breaking – and leave you with an even bigger thought: how democratic processes can be meaningful developed to played its nation building role.