Malaysia's ex-defence minister says he will fully cooperate with Parliament's probe into unbuilt combat ships

Mr Ahmad Zahid said the contractor's failure to deliver the ships was only highlighted in 2019. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's former defence minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has said he will give his full cooperation to help Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in its investigation of a RM9 billion (S$2.95 billion) littoral combat ship (LCS) project.

It has been reported that the government paid RM5.94 billion tocontractor Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS) for the project that was commissioned in 2014.

The first of the ships, meant to patrol Malaysia's coastal waters, was set to be delivered in April 2019. But none of the ships has been built.

Zahid said the contractor's failure to deliver the ships was highlighted only in 2019, long after his tenure as defence minister.

"I was the defence minister from April 2009 until May 2013. However, as pointed out by PAC chairman Wong Kah Woh, I believe the issues on the failure of BNS to deliver the LCS accordingly was only highlighted in 2019.

"I would also like to state that these ships are being tasked to BNS, which is owned by Boustead Holdings Berhad, and two of its largest shareholders are the Armed Forces Fund Board (LTAT) and Retirement Inc Fund (KWAP), both of which belong to the government," he said in a statement on Friday (Dec 18).

The PAC is a body, comprising both government and opposition MPs, set up by Parliament to look into government spending.

Zahid also said the contract was awarded in accordance with the Guidelines for Application of Direct Negotiation Procurement, which state that the procurement of projects, particularly by way of direct negotiation, can only be made upon approval by the finance ministry, not the defence minister.

On the issue of late delivery fees in 2019, Zahid said the defence ministry had clarified that it had forwarded a letter of demand to recover the fees from the responsible party to a controlling officer for approval, but it was to no avail.

"Lastly, I believe that the Ministry of Defence had also made clarifications on the issue of progressive payments. I strongly affirm that the payments were made in 2019 when I was not the Minister of Defence.

"Therefore, I had no knowledge and control over any decisions made by the ministry to proceed with the progressive payments," he said.

He said he understood that PAC is responsible for enhancing and maintaining government structure and administrative framework of accountability in Malaysia.

"However, I strongly believe that PAC should exercise more caution to disclose details of the ongoing investigation, particularly on matters of national security, especially when this is at an investigative stage and no findings have been established yet.

"This contention, however, should not and will not defeat my intention in giving full cooperation and my best ability to assist the committee in the on-going investigation, " added Zahid, who is also the former deputy minister.

On Thursday, Mr Wong said in Parliament that several individuals, including Zahid, would be questioned by the PAC over the LCS project.

Mr Wong also said former navy chief admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar and a representative from BNS will be questioned in the proceedings that will resume in early January, followed by a visit to the LCS ship construction site in Lumut, Perak.

The PAC has held four meetings and proceedings over the issue, where Auditor-General Nik Azman Nik Abdul Majid, defence ministry secretary-general Muez Abd Aziz, former attorney-general Ambrin Buang and several other individuals had been questioned.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.