Ex-Malaysian navy chief says complaints to Najib, Zahid about ship contract unheeded

Former Royal Malaysian Navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar's main grievance was the Navy's objection to the design of the ships. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - When Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar was about to retire after serving for 40 years, he was offered the plum job as the executive deputy chairman/managing director of Boustead Heavy Industries Corporation (BHIC).

The highly respected career officer did not have to think twice.

He said no to the tempting offer, which would have included a remuneration of more than RM80,000 (S$24,800) a month and other perks.

"I refused. I was offered to take over from (Tan Sri Ahmad Ramli Mohd Nor). I refused and I said no.

"I did not want to go and eat my (word/decisions earlier)," he told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The PAC is a bipartisan parliamentary committee that reports to Parliament.

The testimony by Tan Sri Abdul Aziz, 66, was clear that he made the decision because many of the actions by Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS), a unit of BHIC, was allegedly against the interest of the navy.

Mr Ahmad Ramli, a former navy chief, is one of the two names implicated and mentioned repeatedly in the PAC report on the RM9 billion littoral combat ships (LCS) scandal.

The other is former navy captain Anuar Murad, whose name was mentioned 23 times in the PAC report. He was the BNS' LCS programme director.

The scandal came to light on Aug 4 when the PAC reported that the Malaysian government had paid RM6 billion of the RM9 billion contract to build the six LCS, but that none of the ships had been delivered.

Ships not delivered

The six LCS were commissioned in 2011, without open tender, to be built by BNS with the first delivered in 2019 and the sixth vessel delivered next year.

In the 247-page PAC report, retired admiral Abdul Aziz said he had written 10 letters, including to then Prime Minister Najib Razak and then Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi, as well as to the Chief Secretary to the Government and the secretaries-general of the Defence Ministry and the Treasury.

None of them, he said, bothered about his incessant protests about the LCS, which were to be used to patrol Malaysia's shoreline.

Mr Abdul Aziz's main grievance was the navy's objection to the design of the ships as he felt the navy, as the end user, should have a say.

But his views were ignored by the contractor, BHIC, which was supposed to build the six LCS.

In his testimony before the PAC last year, Mr Abdul Aziz said RMN fought a "losing battle, right from the start" with "Boustead (BNS) given the leeway to choose what was right for themselves".

The core of the dispute is that the Malaysian Navy had wanted the Sigma design of the LCS by a Dutch firm and the combat management system (CMS) from a French firm.

But following intense lobbying, BNS had opted for the Gowind design and the Setis CMS - both from France.

Mr Abdul Aziz said he felt "very dejected" as it was claimed then that former defence minister Zahid had agreed to Gowind-Setis but he had not seen any letter from the then minister expressing preference for Gowind-Setis.

Zahid is said to have earlier agreed to the Sigma design.

"The French design was not a proven design while Sigma was already operational in Indonesia, Morocco and a few other countries," he said, adding that there was also a lost opportunity as the builder had wanted to make Malaysia its hub.

The Gowind design is by France's Naval Group, formerly DCNS, which had also built the controversial Scorpene submarines in 2002 for Malaysia.

Mr Abdul Aziz said: "We had bad experiences with the French, especially with the submarines. I did not want to tell the government that we have been cheated but short of saying it, there was some element there. If anybody were to be in my position, I say you must be ready."

Although he felt "something gravely wrong" from the beginning, Mr Abdul Aziz did not issue any statements externally but declared that the PAC was the best opportunity to say, "I have registered my greatest disappointment to everyone that was supposed to be listening to me".

"If I were to build a house, if I say I want that, you will get it done. Betul atau tidak? (Right or not?) The fact that happened (was) the other way around, jelas menunjukkan bahawa tidak telus, (it just shows that it's not transparent)," he said.

The Malaysian government has paid out RM6 billion in the RM9 billion project to build six littoral combat ships. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Probe main contractors

In his testimony, Mr Abdul Aziz also asked to be put on record that he had called for an investigation into Contraves Advanced Devices (CAD) - one of the two companies appointed by BNS as main contractors for the LCS project.

The other is Contraves Electrodynamics (CED), in which BNS has a 51 per cent stake, with the foreign Rheinmetall Group having the other 49 per cent.

The testimony by Mr Abdul Aziz is serious as he has a shiny 41-year journey as a naval officer, including 7½ years as RMN chief.

He was enlisted into the RMN in 1974 soon after graduating from the Royal Military College in Sungai Besi.

Among the milestones Mr Abdul Aziz had achieved were serving on board nine operational ships at sea, including commanding three of them.

He was also part of a commissioning crew for four RMN ships:

- the fast-attack craft KD Paus at the Hong Leong-Lurssen Shipyard in Butterworth, Penang, in 1976;

- the multipurpose command and support ship KD Seri Indera Sakti at Bremen Vulkan Shipyard in Bremen, Germany, in 1980;

- the corvette KD Kasturi at HDW Shipyard in Kiel, Germany, in 1984; and

- the missile corvette KD Laksamana Muhammad Amin at Fincantieri Shipyard in La Spezia, Italy, in 1999.

On page 80 of the PAC report, in an apparent reference to Mr Ahmad Ramli, Mr Abdul Aziz said there were many proposals made by the navy regarding 17 main management systems - 10 were agreed and seven disagreed by BNS.

"So I said 'My God'. Short of telling him, 'Being an ex-navy, beliau ini (this person), you are not helping the navy at all," he said.

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