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Thursday, October 16, 2008


A retired Armed Forces Captain, Datuk Zahar Hashim claims there were discrepancies in the tender process which led to French-German aviation firm, Eurocopter, winning the bid to supply the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) with 12 Cougar EC725 long-range tactical transport helicopters to replace the aging Nuri helicopters. The new Cougar choppers will cost the government an estimated RM2.3 billion.

As a military aviation enthusiast, I have been following the progress of the government's intention to replace the aging Nuri choppers with great interest, hoping that the folks at the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) would make a good choice for RMAF's long term use. I was quite happy when the government announced it has made a decision to purchase the Cougars, outbidding 3 other short-listed contenders - the American-made Sikorsky S92; the EH-101 (AW-101) Merlin of British-Italian firm Agusta Westland; and Russia's Mil Mi-17 Hip manufactured by Kazan Helicopters (under license from Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant which is the original manufacturer). I had always anticipated that it was either going to be the Cougar, Sikorsky or the Merlin, based on RMAF's requirement for a long-range versatile chopper with high capability for troop transportation and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). The Mil Mi-17 on the other hand, is more popular among Eastern bloc nations, with slightly older technology and less options / compatibility to be fitted with current state-of-the-art avionics and eletronic warfare systems.

To me, Zahar's two letters dated Oct 7 and 9, addressed to Deputy Prime Minister and former Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (also copied to the Prime Minister's Office, the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA), the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Complaints Bureau) is a classic case of being a sourgrape. Obviously angry because his company Mentari Services Sdn Bhd who represented Kelowna Flightcraft of Canada (for Kazan Helicopters) lost the bid, he is now out to get Najib and those at Mindef, hoping to get full support from the Prime Minister, the ACA and the Member of Parliaments in the PAC.

I feel sad because a sore loser is attempting to screw up the purchase of a helicopter with a proven track record, both during peace and war times. Of course good things come at a price. Here's a simple analogy. Why do people spend a bomb to buy Mercedes Benz or BMW when they can get a Japanese, Korean or even Malaysian marque for a quarter of the price they originally paid for the mentioned German marques? Well, obviously the Benz or the Beemer offers something beyond what Malaysian-made vehicles has - be it performance, ride, handling, safety and other creature comforts, not to the mention state-of-the art features and other options.

Okay, let's look at another analogy which favours Malaysian-made cars, just to be fair. Let's talk about Russian-made cars. Would you rather be seen in a box-like Lada or the sleek Proton Gen-2? Common sense would tell you, of course the latter which is definitely sexier and ages apart in terms of technology from every aspect. The fact remains until today that Russian made cars such as Lada, Gaz, Moskyith and Iz are poorly designed and highly questionable in terms of reliability. But one thing is for sure, they are bloody cheap.

Which brings us to the Russian-made Mil Mi-17 Hip chopper, rejected by Mindef in favour of the Cougar. First and foremost, Zahar's company Mentari Services is obviously several layers down from the chopper's original parent company back in Russia. It is quite baffling when Zahar claimed his company is representing Kelowna Flightcraft of Canada, which is in fact merely an aviation Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) company in British Columbia which I suspect is the marketing agent for Kazan helicopters in Canada. Even if Mindef decided to choose the Mil Mi-17 choppers, it would be much cheaper for the government to deal direct with Kazan Helicopters or better still, Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant in Russia. Why even the need to deal with Mentari Services which obviously would charge hefty commissions and other hidden / discreet charges anyway? The Malayian government already have a good relationship with the Russian government, having purchased the MIG-29N and Sukhoi MKM-30 air superiority fighters under direct negotiations with the sole Russian government defence-related exporting arm, Rosoboronexport. In fact, the purchase of Mil Mi-17 would have had to be made through Rosobornexport which handles all sales of Russian arms to the international market.

Zahar also claims that the government could have save RM1.5 billion by opting for the Mil Mi-17 instead of the Cougar. He said that the government could have bought 30 units of the Mil Mi-17 for the amount paid to Eurocopter for the 12 Cougars. This is a clear cut case of quantity versus quality. We have lost too many airmen already each time a Nuri crashes. Will Zahar will be responsible for more lives if the Mil Mi-17 malfunctions mid-air?

Although I welcome the ACA and PAC's move to probe the Eurocopter deal, I hope the investigations would be done professionally and objectively with inputs and feedbacks from those who are experts in military aviation - the RMAF especially must play a pivotal role in defending their selection for the Cougars during the inquiry. When it comes to selecting the Nuri replacements, there should be no compromise for quality and safety. The MPs in the PAC especially, should not use this issue for political mileage. The business of defending our country's sovereignty via land, sea or air is no joke. It comes with a price. Just look at the defence budget for our southern neighbour and we'll know why. The last thing we want is Malaysia once again being the laughing stock for poor selection of defence equipments and arms. For this matter, the Opposition or potential opportunitist itching to capitalise on this issue for their own mileage should just shut up and leave it to our capable people at Mindef to handle this because it is their business to ensure the country is safe, with the aid of good defence capabilities. And don't even think of using the "waste of taxpayers' money" card for this one. As a taxpayer myself, I want my money to be spent on good defence equipment. I don't want my money to be associated with mediocre defence technology...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


The decision by the Malacca State government to confer the Darjah Mulia Seri Melaka (DMSM) which carries the title "Datuk" to Bollywood hearthrob, Shah Rukh Khan makes me more convinced that the Malacca Datukship is one of the "cheapest" in terms of prestige and credibility, compared to other states. In fact, a harsher Malay word for it would be "koman."

I regard the conferment to Shah Rukh Khan as the "pinnacle of mediocracy" by the State government which has a tendency to award Datukships to any Tom, Dick and Harry.

Having served a former senior federal-level politician some years back (who also had the honour of being bestowed with a Malacca Datukship at that time), I noticed that the list of recipients for that particular year was not even close to being credible, authoritative and having done great services to the State, let alone the country. My conclusion at that time was, if you were a politician or government officer having served in Malacca for a couple of years and was in the good books of the Chief Minister or Yang Dipertua Negeri (Governor), then you're set to at least get the entry-level DMSM. Oh, and let's not forget the typical "mengampu" businessmen and lobbyists too.

Yesterday, the Artistes Association of Malaysia (Seniman) also filed an official protest over Malacca's move to make Shah Rukh Khan a Datuk at a press conference by its president Datuk Mustapha Maarof who said the Datukship for Shah Rukh belittles the credibility and creativity of local talent. And so did Film Directors Association of Malaysia president Ahmad Ibrahim (Mat London) who was convinced that Shah Rukh doesn't even know what being a Datuk meant. And I totally agree with him, which explains why Shah Rukh didn't even bother to attend the investiture ceremony in conjunction with the Governor's birthday last Saturday. He was probably sipping cocktail in his mansion in Mumbai and said "Yeah, whatever" when his assistant conveyed him the happy news that he was now a Datuk.

I think I know the real reason behind the Datukship conferment. It's plain simple. Shah Rukh comes to Malacca for a special investiture ceremony next month, haves lunch or hi-tea with the Governor, Chief Minister and other State VIPs and then attends a meet-the-fans session in town to press some flesh, if he even bothers. And then he might shoot a scene from his latest movie somewhere in Banda Hilir and returns to India. And in a few months time, local die-hard fans of Shah Rukh will eagerly storm cinemas nationwide to catch a glimpse of Malacca again, just like they did in "One Two Ka Four" where one of the song scenes of the movie was shot in A Famosa Resort, Alor Gajah. This is how pathetic we have become, endlessly attempting to piggy-back on almost any opportunity which comes our way, all in the name of promoting our country for tourism purposes.

I'm going end this post with my two-cents worth of advice to the Malacca State government regarding conferment of Datukships to the undeserving, in my mother tongue - "Sudah sudah lah tu."