Ahad, 10 Oktober 2010

The truth of the matter


SHAHANAAZ HABIB
shaz@thestar.com.my



Defence Minister and Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi speaks candidly about defence and some Umno issues.

STOLEN jet engines and the submarine that would not dive have been among the many issues the Defence Minister had to tackle publicly in the last few months.

He has even taken the “risk” and agreed to meet with an Israeli leader.

For Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, these have all been in a day’s work.
"By agreeing to meet Barak, I managed to convey our dissatisfaction to Israel directly" DATUK SERI DR AHMAD ZAHID HAMIDI

Why has Malaysia sent an armed forces’ medical team to Afghanistan? Who is funding it?

The reason is to show our commitment to help a country in need by providing medical aid to a deprived area. The request came from Afghanistan.

At level one, we have sent medical doctors, assistants, nurses and general staff.

If we have the finances, we will go on to level two for a hospital with 100 beds, operating theatres and specialists.

Right now, Malaysian taxpayers are financing it. But we have an agreement from a Middle East country for us to join their team (with financial support).

Did the US ask Malaysia to send the team?

Not officially. It was the Afghan Defence Minister (Gen Abdul Rahim Wardak) who came officially to request from us – not the (US) Defence Secretary.

Malaysia has been safe from terrorist attacks all this while as we have not been aligned but now we have a presence in Afghanistan. Wouldn’t this invite terrorists to strike here?

We did not send troops but a medical team. They can distinguish between troops and medical aid. Besides, the medical aid is of benefit to them, their friends, family and relatives too.

I don’t see this as controversial. It is a Cabinet decision and I have notified the public of it. The Afghan Defence Minister was here (in August) to explain the purpose of our medical team being sent there.

Is Malaysia trying to “curry” favour with the US by sending a team to Afghanistan?

No. The US troops are going to pull out of Afghanistan and it will be a self-governing country soon.

It is good to establish ties early so that when the country is free from foreign influence, we can send an engineering corps there to help rebuild the country – and then bring in Malaysian businessmen for business opportunities.

Israel launched a three-week military strike on Gaza (December 2008 to January 2009) and yet five months after that, you met with the Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak. Why?

I attended the Aeronautic and Space show in Paris and Barak was there too and he put in a request to meet.

I set three conditions – that he has to come down to see me, there would be no bodyguards, and no journalists. He agreed.

He wanted to find out the stance of Muslim countries towards Israel. I said Malaysia’s position was very clear that we do not recognise Israel. I said there is no point for Israel to want ties with Malaysia while it is killing Muslims in Palestine and Golan Heights.

Barak said he was born a Moroccan, speaks Arabic, understands the Arab culture and that we are all sons of Adam. But I told him the son of Adam shouldn’t victimise another son of Adam!

I also said Malaysians have a very strong bond with Palestinians and we give aid on humanitarian grounds and will not compromise with Israel.

The meeting lasted 42 minutes.

I spent a lot of time really pressuring him. I said Israel should accept the fact that Muslim countries, except those which already have diplomatic ties with Israel, have taken a very strong position based on the atrocities committed by them.

I thought that as the first representative from Malaysia who directly bombarded Barak, MPs here should appreciate the effort I took.

By agreeing to meet Barak, I managed to convey our dissatisfaction to Israel directly.

Malaysian politicians generally are wary about meeting with Israeli politicians because they fear a backlash locally. Were you apprehensive of meeting Barak and of news of it getting out?

No. About a month after I met him, I was asked about it by reporters who followed me to south Lebanon and I made it known. They wrote the story.

I was not worried as I had taken the opportunity to send a loud and clear message to the Israeli government.

What is the truth about our submarines? There were reports our KD Tunku Abdul Rahman couldn’t dive.

The truth is it is in operation and sailing very well.

What happened was that we found a leak at the third level. It wasn’t a dangerous condition and after all it was still under warranty. So we took the submarine to the dry dock and the repair was done.

It was only a small leak and was repaired in less than a week.

If the submarine could not dive, how could it have come all the way from Toulon, France, to Malaysia?

There are claims too that KD Tunku Abdul Rahman is always having problems?

I never received any such report. It’s a brand new engine – how can that be?

The exercise we recently carried out (the submarine diving and then test-firing an Exocet missile) clearly shows the submarine is in operation.

You said that leaking information about the submarine is very serious and suspect the maintenance people are behind it.

It is quite normal for repair, maintenance and the overhaul of defence assets to be outsourced. I suspect some opposition sympathisers are working with the company and are the ones leaking the information.

Doesn’t this suggest that there is truth to the leaked information and that the ministry is trying to keep it quiet?

No. The issue is very small but the opposition is spinning the story. We are very transparent, as in what happened to the (stolen) F5-E jet engines. But security and defence matters are not subjects for discussion.

But we are not talking about war strategies here. The submarines are paid for by taxpayers and they want to know if it is worth the RM3.4bil and if the submarines are doing what they are supposed to do. Surely they have a right to that information?

Yes, and I will provide them with answers professionally – and I have done that. But to ask what the strength of our air defence system is, should I tell the public about it?

Although these are not war strategy matters, publicly discussing what system we are having – is that not a national security matter (and should not be revealed)?

How much do people trust the government to do the right thing?

Trust depends on public perception. Public perception is being destroyed by wrong information given to them.

People trust bloggers more than the mainstream media and the government must manage the perception. This is the trend everywhere, not just in Malaysia, since the new media emerged.

With the submarine being operational, people are now realising the information they received was wrong and perception has changed.

On the F-5E jet engine case, why did it take seven months to discover that the engines were missing?

We did a domestic inquiry and the police did another thorough investigation. It was not to delay or cover up but a normal procedure.

It is also a technical issue to check the serial numbers of the engines and compare to parts kept in some other workshops elsewhere and carry out checks without victimising anybody. We have to thoroughly check who the culprit was.

We suspected internal people and found this to be true – a sergeant and his subordinate staff – and the “activities” were done during public holidays.

I can’t reveal more because the case is still going on.

Perception is that Mindef is trying to protect the “higher ups”.

Not at all. From our investigation and the police’s, no other officials were involved except the sergeant. And he has a scrap metal company with a friend.

But why did four Mindef officers go to the home of Sgt N. Thamendran (who has been charged for the crime) in Seremban to look for him? He even refused the RM50,000 bail, preferring to remain in jail because he feared for his life.

Nobody threatened him – not from our side. If he is not guilty, he should not be scared. I think he is just giving excuses. We should leave it to the judicial system to decide.

Is Umno making a mistake by whacking Perkasa?

We are not whacking anybody. We respect any NGO, including Perkasa, whether we support them or not. We respect their stand but we have our own agenda.

Article 152 (on Malay as the national language) and 153 (Malay special rights) are in the Federal Constitution as a social contract among the three races in the country and we should respect this.

Why is it that only when Malay NGOs are trying to protect the interest of Malays that people question it.?

Why did the Chinese not question Chinese NGOs like the Dong Zong (when they raised issues of Chinese interest)?

What do you think of the racist comment made by the Biro Tata Negara assistant director Hamim Husin at the Puteri Umno function?

Is that the principle of BTN? I don’t think so. It was a mistake made by one person. There are many BTN officers who do not use that kind of terminology.

When the Gerakan Wanita chief (Datuk Tan Lian Hoe) made her policy speech (in 2008 which questioned ketuanan Melayu), she was not asked to resign.

But when (Penang) Umno’s Datuk Ahmad Ismail defended the Malays (by describing Chinese as immigrants and squatters), he was asked to leave the party.

We belong to a plural society. We have to get along and discuss sensitive issues rationally, not emotionally.

2 ulasan:

  1. Well said... LOUD & CLEAR...
    Thank you.

    BalasPadam
  2. It is alright to realise our own roots and race. It is alright too to help and fight for own tribe and race. But to be racist is something else.

    BalasPadam