Malaysian military: Corruption at the heart of its defense procurement

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak became the first Malaysian leader to be convicted of corruption. He faces 12 years in prison for looting a government fund known as 1Malaysia Development Berhad while in office from 2009 to 2018. In fact, the 1MDB scandal so angered voters in 2018 that they kicked out both Mr. Najib and his ruling party, the United Malays National Organization. The party had governed the country for 61 years since independence from Britain.

Malaysia’s defense ministry lodged a report with the country’s anti-graft agency over a previous non-delivery of helicopters. While the helicopter scandal is just one of several of such cases that the Southeast Asian state has exposed, it has once again put the spotlight on the future of Malaysia’s defense policy under the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, which took power following a shock election outcome last May.

Corruption is among the many issues that Malaysia has been confronting within its defense policy. Since coming to power last year for the first time, the Pakatan Harapan government has been working to manage several scandals in this respect. A case in point is the issue of land swap contracts, where land near big cities was handed out to private companies in exchange for the building of military camps in remote areas on questionable terms. Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu claimed that more than 500 million ringgit had been lost due to these projects. This scandal management has been part of a broader reform effort that also involves other initiatives as well, including the drafting of the country’s first-ever defense white paper.

Lieutenant-General (Rtd) Sheikh Moksin Hassan was charged in his capacity as the then head of the Strategic Cyber Warfare Branch with soliciting and agreeing to accept RM500,000 from private companies.

Another scandal that had been in the headlines was one related to Malaysia’s purchase of helicopters. Local media reports last month cited defense sources as saying that although six McDonnell Douglas MD530G lightweight combat helicopters worth 300 million ringgit were believed to be purchased by Malaysia back in 2015 and were all meant to be delivered by 2018, they have yet to be delivered even though Malaysia has paid 35 percent of the contract value to date. Mohamad, popularly known as Mat Sabu, had said that an internal investigation had been initiated and the findings would then be forwarded on to other agencies.

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Last week, this issue was in the headlines again with reports that the defense ministry had lodged a report with the country’s anti-graft agency over the helicopter deal in question, as Mat Sabu had indicated previously. Per Bernama news agency, a defense ministry representative filed a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) on June 13 over the non-delivery of the helicopters.

No further details were provided about the report, including details of the internal investigation that had been conducted as well as potential next steps that could be taken. But as the PH government continues to tackle such issues, developments such as these will continue to be important to watch to get a sense for what progress can be made in the coming years.

After the historic first transfer of power two years ago, Malaysia’s new leaders started remarkable reforms, driven by the public’s rising demands for clean governance. They created an anti-corruption agency and set a five-year goal to raise the integrity of civil servants and elected officials. (The latter, for example, must publicly declare their personal assets.) More than 1,230 people were arrested on corruption charges. One particular goal was bolstered by Tuesday’s court ruling: ensuring the accountability and credibility of judges and prosecutors.

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