Protesters gather in Kuala Lumpur to condemn scandal involving delayed littoral combat ships

Representatives of various groups made speeches likening the scandal to the wrongdoings at 1MDB. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - About 100 protesters gathered in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday (Aug 14) to condemn a multi-billion-dollar scandal involving the delayed delivery of littoral combat ships (LCS) that came to light recently.

The protesters, many dressed in black to signal their displeasure, began gathering in front of the Sogo shopping centre at about 1.30pm.

Braving a light drizzle, representatives of various groups made speeches condemning the scandal, likening it to the wrongdoings at 1Malaysia Development Berhad, in which US$4.5 billion (S$6.2 billion) was allegedly siphoned out of the sovereign fund.

They said Malaysia is increasingly becoming known for its bad governance resulting in the loss of billions of ringgit of public funds.

"Honestly, I'm so tired of it and my money being stolen away by these crooks. We don't deserve this," protester Norhafizah Hashim, a 29-year-old accountant, told The Straits Times.

Besides members of the public, also present were college students and members of political parties Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) and the youth wing of the Democratic Action Party.

"This issue shouldn't be seen from a hyper partisan lens. Whether we're Umno members or Muda, we should be infuriated and demand accountability," Muda president Syed Saddiq told reporters.

"If the government has the morals to take action today, regardless of their party leadership involved, that shows courage."

The scandal first broke out on Aug 4 after a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) presented to Parliament revealed that some RM1.4 billion (S$431 million) in government allocation for the LCS project had been used for other purposes, including cost overruns.

Six LCS were commissioned in 2011, without open tender, to be built by Boustead Naval Shipyard and delivered from 2019.

So far RM6 billion of the RM9 billion cost has been paid out, with little to show for it. Not even the designs for these vessels have been completed.

Directly under fire are Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who was defence minister when the contract was awarded in 2011; former premier Najib Razak, whose Finance Ministry at the time readily disbursed funds for the project; and Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, a former Umno vice-president who is currently the defence minister.

Since the scandal broke out, there have been growing calls to institute criminal proceedings and set up a royal commission of inquiry into the troubled deal.

The opposition is also calling for a special parliamentary sitting on the matter to be held soon before the current ruling government's term ends in July 2023.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has pledged to carry out a public and transparent probe into the stalled project. The Cabinet has also decided to declassify documents related to the contract, including a 2019 forensic report over the contractor's failure to deliver a single ship despite the government paying more than RM6 billion to date.

Umno is attempting to remove itself and its coalition Barisan Nasional from the spotlight, saying that the problem involves only the shipbuilder's management.

Its deputy president Mohamad Hasan accused the opposition of deliberately playing up the matter to discredit the Umno-led coalition.

Najib said he would also stop pointing fingers if former ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan answer six questions over the issue, including how much progress was made on the LCS project during Pakatan's 22 months in power.

"Did you make any noise in 2019 when the deadline was passed? What about the year 2020 (Covid)? Year 2021 (Covid)? Why just before GE15, you coordinated to make a major issue on late delivery of a project that was stopped during your time in government?" the Pekan MP asked in  a Facebook post on Saturday.

Boustead Naval Shipyard has also refuted the PAC's conclusion that 15 per cent of the equipment in their warehouse was obsolete as "not entirely accurate".

The police said about 60 people attended the protest and that they had identified 13 who would be called to have their statements recorded.

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