Media Conference Statement by Lim Kit Siang in Parliament on Tuesday, 4th November 2008 at 11 am: 

Azmi Khalid’s unilateral rush as PAC Chairman to white-wash grave procedural abuse of helicopter tender process

Public Accounts Committee Chairman Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid has provided the most eloquent testimony why there is a Commonwealth parliamentary convention that a senior Opposition parliamentarian should be head of the PAC (and why a Minister who has just stepped down from the Cabinet should not head the PAC) if the parliamentary watchdog committee is not to be bullied or overawed by the Executive to rubber-stamp or whitewash controversial government decisions like the RM1.6 billion 12 Couger EC725 Eurocopter deal fiasco.

Yesterday, Azmi announced that the PAC had cleared the government of any procedural abuse abuse in the RM1.604 billion Eurocopter helicopter deal and that the deal “was done in accordance with procedures”.

Is Azmi aware that his announcement clearing the government of any procedural abuse in the helicopter tender process has created consternation, disbelief and dismay among right-thinking Malaysians and undermined public confidence in the institution of Parliament for it runs counter to the clear and grave procedural abuse in the tender process requiring physical evaluation and in this case, test flights of the helicopters shorted-listed?

How can Azmi claim on the one hand that there is no procedural abuse in the tender process and yet in the next breath admit to the fact that there was the grave procedural abuse of no physical evaluation and test flight of the helicopters concerned?

As I pointed out in Parliament on Thursday during the winding-up of the Defence Ministry by the Deputy Defence Minister, Datuk Abu Seman Yusop, the helicopter tender documents specifically provided for “documentary evaluation” in Section 37 and “physical evaluation” in Section 38.

We have here another instance of the conflicting claims and justifications by top government leaders for the Eurocopter deal fiasco, not only in three different versions for its price, but also on its evaluation.

Abu Seman gave three ridiculous reasons in Parliament as to why there was no need to comply with the tender document requiring physical evaluation and test flight of the helicopters tendered, while Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Finance Minister who was Defence Minister when the helicopter deal was clinched, claimed that “joyrides” of the Couger EC725 helicopter by RMAF pilots at the LIMA Airshow in Langkawi were adequate as physical evaluation and test-flights!

Why is Azmi swallowing “line, hook and sinker” the government excuses for a gross abuse of procedure in the Eurocopter helicopter deal instead of showing an independent and critical mind which are the prerequisites for a conscientious PAC Chairman?

Coming to the post of PAC Chairman with a “Ministerial mindset” is bad enough, Azmi should be conscious that he should not act or conduct himself in any manner as to create suspicion or doubt whether he is being influenced by thoughts of getting back to the Cabinet in the new Najib administration beginning in five months’ time!

Is Azmi able to explain why he is prepared to overlook the grave procedural abuse of not having any physical evaluation and test flight of the helicopters tendered by claiming that it was no procedural abuse?

What Azmi is guilty of is “an unilateral rush” as PAC Chairman to whitewash the grave procedural abuse of the helicopter tender process.

I have been referring to Azmi personally but not to the PAC because I have been informed that no vote had been taken of the PAC members for the PAC finding claimed by Azmi that there was no procedural abuse in the RM1.604 billion Eurocopter helicopter deal and that the deal “was done in accordance with procedures”.

In fact, this alleged finding of the PAC is clearly not the views of all the PAC members and it is most unfair and undemocratic for Azmi to claim that the PAC had reached any such finding when it is not the case.

Yesterday, I had suggested that the PAC should investigate the suggestion by a former Nuri pilot that a better proposition is for an upgrade of the RMAF Nuris, which will cost only a few hundred million ringgit, for two reasons:

• that 85 % of the RMAF Nuri crashes were due to human error, 10 % enemy aggression and another 5 % only maybe technical.

• the Nuris are still “good for another 20 years and more”, having “very low airframe hours, with an average of 9000 hours per aircraft” as compared to “worldwide standard for this type of helicopter currently is more than 50,000 hours and some even reaching 60,000 hours”.

I am shocked that my proposal had been summarily rejected by Azmi on the ground that a total of 95 persons had died in Nuri helicopter crashes since 1969.

I do not hold any watching brief for Sikorsky, the manufacturer of Nuri helicopters, and have no objection to the phasing of the Nuris, if this is the considered opinion of any independent study of the matter as my top priority is the safety of the RMAF personnel using the helicopters.

What I cannot accept is that Azmi has taken upon himself to pass such a judgement, not as a result of an full inquiry by the PAC, but because of the advice he had received by some Defence Ministry official.

If the PAC Chairman is going to be a puppet of any top Ministry official, what is the use of having a PAC in the first place.
In his unilateral rush for PAC judgment to whitewash the Eurocopter deal, Azmi has failed to lead the PAC to probe into two important aspects:

1. The very grave issues about propriety, accountability and professionalism in the decision-making process, whether at the technical, off-set or price stages, especially when it is now established that the government had not conducted physical and specification inspections of the three short-listed aircrafts – the Cougar EC725, Sikorsky S92 and AgustaWestlands AW101.

2. Has the PAC secured firm undertaking from the Defence Ministry that when the government finally decides to purchase the helicopters, there would be a new open tender for the helicopters in view of the procedural abuses in the Eurocopter deal?
Finally, when is Azmi and the PAC going to submit its report on the Eurocopter inquiry to Parliament for debate. Can the report be tabled by before the end of this month?

Azmi must not forget that the PAC is only a committee of the Dewan Rakyat which has the final responsibility to endorse, revise or reject its report and recommendations.

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor