Media Statement by Lim Kit Siang in Parliament on Friday, 31st October 2008: 

PAC Chairman Azmi has undermined his own credibility by claiming that the technical aspects of the billion-ringgit Eurocopter deal were “above board” and “professionally carried out” when there had been no flight tests or at most “joy rides” only!

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman Datuk Azmi Khalid has confirmed my worst fears about his suitability as head of the parliamentary watchdog committee as he had undermined his own credibility by claiming that the technical aspects of the billion-ringgit Cougar EC725 Eurocopters were “above board” and “professionally carried out” when the two-hour parliamentary debate on the subject yesterday proved completely otherwise.

The Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Abu Seman Yusop admitted in Parliament yesterday that the Eurocopter deal was sealed without conducting physical evaluation on the helicopters – no test flights were done nor were there any factory visits.

Outraged, I rose up in the House to flay the government for trifling with the lives and safety of RMAF personnel who would have to use the helicopters, by failing to comply with its own tender requirements for the helicopters to replace the Nuris, which clearly stipulated that the short-listed aircraft bidders would have to undergo stringent documentary as well as physical evaluation.

In response to my query, Abu Seman said three of the seven bidders for the international open tender for the utility helicopters capable of search and rescue and capable of being upgraded to combat search and rescue aircraft had been short-listed but he refused to name the three aircrafts concerned.

This is clearly a gross defect amounting to criminal negligence in the technical aspects of the Eurocopter selection, getting Malaysia into the Guinness Book of Records and making us the laughing stock of the world as a country which procures expensive and sophisticated aircrafts without any test flight or physical evaluation – despite this being clearly stipulated as one vital criteria in the tender process!

Abu Seman even conjured up three reasons to explain why there was no need for physical evaluation or test flights, viz:

• First, there were complete documentations for the technical committee to make its assessment.

• Second, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) had enough data about helicopters in the market.

• Third, to guarantee the integrity of the six-man technical committee so that it won’t be questioned by anyone.
These three reasons are so ludicrous, none of them would have withstood cursory examination or minimal scrutiny!

Realising that the Deputy Defence Minister had made a fool of the government in Parliament yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak who was the Defence Minister at the time of the Eurocopter procurement, tried to salvage the situation by claiming outside the House that the Eurocopter was a proven helicopter, which is in service in many countries and had seen combat in Afghanistan. Furthermore, “our pilots have tried the helicopter during the Lima Maritime Series of Exhibition so they know its performance”.

Najib’s explanation is another “shocker” in a series of “shockers” in the most improper Eurocopter procurement process, as everybody is wondering how “joy rides” at the Lima shows can be equated with the stringent physical evaluation of flight tests matching international best practices as required in the tender document.

In any event, where were the physical evaluation and test flights or just “joy rides” for the other two short-listed aircrafts – presumably Sikorsky S92 and AgustaWestlands AW101 – done, and couldn’t the same claim that they are proven helicopters, seen service in many countries, and used in combat in war zones be given for these two other helicopters as well?

What has been proven beyond a shadow of doubt in the grilling of Abu Seman in Parliament yesterday is that the technical aspects of the Eurocopter deal stinks, as they have been done in a most unprofessional and unsatisfactory manner, going against best international practices and principles of accountability and transparency as well as in utter disregard of the lives and safety of the RMAF personnel who will be using the helicopters.

How then can Azmi emerge from Wednesday’s meeting of the PAC on the Eurocopter deal to issue a certificate of fitness for its technical aspects as being “aboveboard” and “professionally carried out” when it is the exact opposite in failing to pass muster in not having any physical evaluation or test flight?

Instead of issuing a clean bill of health for the technical aspects of the Eurocopter deal, the PAC should be conducting a full-scale investigation as to why the vital tender requirement for a physical evaluation had been done away with, which officers had been responsible for such an outrageous decision, and up to what level had this exemption from having to carry out test flights and other physical evaluation for the three short-listed aircrafts been approved or authorized.

Were the Defence Minister and the Cabinet privy to the unprecedented decision to procure the new helicopters without any test flight or physical evaluation?

It would appear that the two-hour debate and grilling of Abu Seman had elicited more information than the two-day PAC examination of the Eurocopter deal – and if this is the case, is PAC Chairman Azmi out to whitewash the Eurocopter deal or to diligently carry out the parliamentary mandate to get to the bottom of the impropriety and irregularity of the Eurocopter procurement including why there had been no proper flight tests and physical evaluation before a selection is made?

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