Elias Hj Idris
By: Mariam Mokhtar (March 15, 2013) - Free Malaysia Today

A prime minister who resorts to silencing the rakyat with lies and obfuscation, does not deserve our vote.

No wonder Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is jittery about his handling of the invasion of Lahad Datu. Part of the reason for Najib’s woeful delay in responding to the Suluk threat was because the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) was responsible for monitoring the waters off Sabah’s east coast.

Did the PMD underestimate the severity of the Suluk threat? Did Najib hope the problem would go away, if he ignored it? We wrongly believed that the navy and the Ministry of Defence (MOD) were responsible for maritime surveillance and law enforcement.

Yesterday (March 14), Bernama reported that the Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that the monitoring of Sabah’s 1,400km coastline, previously under the PMD, had been transferred to his ministry and the Malaysian Royal Navy.

Zahid said, “I received this command last Friday in a letter given to me from Deputy Prime Minister [Tan Sri] Muhyiddin Yassin as the minister responsible for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

“MMEA’s command in Sabah has been handed over to me [Defence Ministry], it is no longer under the PMD.”

Najib’s lack of leadership was compounded by a failure of the relevant minsters to act. Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s assertion that the Suluks were not terrorists was baffling. Both men deserve to be sacked. Then, Musa Aman, Sabah’s Chief Minister freely referred to the Suluks as terrorists. Our leaders can’t even agree on terminology and responded too late to an armed threat.

To make matters worse, Najib imposed a news blackout, thus fuelling rumours. Instead of using the media to support our troops, to boost their morale and to reassure the nation, Najib’s news blackout appears to be selfishly motivated. He wanted to prevent criticism of his actions.

Najib and his ministers grappled with the issue, and transferred the problem from one to another, like passing an unwanted newborn baby that has suddenly been left at the doorstep.

Tactical advantage

While he and his inner circle prevaricated, the tactical advantage of containing the threat, while it was still small, was lost. Lives could have been saved if our leaders had acted with more conviction and with urgency.

Sabahans are deeply resentful of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s “Project M”, which allowed illegal immigrants to penetrate their community. The Sabahans were robbed of an identity because Mahathir worshipped power. Our government was lax and the foreigners became emboldened. The Suluk invasion was inevitable.

The Suluks appeared in news bulletins around Chinese New Year. Was the PMD caught off guard because of the extended weekend holiday? Najib was trying to manipulate Psy, into becoming a psychological weapon against the opposition, thus neglecting the insidious Suluk threat.

Why was the PMD, and not the MOD, in charge of Sabah’s extensive coastline?

Why are our borders porous despite the various agencies patrolling our waters – the Marine Police, the Marine Department, the Fisheries Department, the Ports and Harbours authorities, the MMEA?

When was the MMEA assigned to the PMD? Was it during Mahathir’s era?

Was the PMD in charge of these waters to facilitate the easy entry of illegal immigrants under Mahathir’s “Project M”? If human trafficking went unchallenged, were arms, drugs and other contraband, peddled along these entry and exit routes, too?

No border enforcement can ever be 100% watertight, but what caused the failure of our intelligence gathering services?

Silencing the rakyat

It was alleged that various Filipinos in Sabah got wind of the Suluk invasion days in advance of the invasion. When the armed forces were eventually deployed, there seemed to be an absence of tactical intelligence. Under Najib’s command, the military objective seems to be subordinate to the political objective.

Perhaps, Najib’s bloated PMD is too big to manage and there is little communication between the various sections under its purview.

Nazri Aziz, a Minister in the PMD, told Parliament that the PMD employed a mind-boggling 43,544 people in 2010 and that its “operating budget” was RM3.9 billion per year.

According to the Malaysia Insider, Liew Chin Tong, the MP for Bukit Bendera claimed that Nazri omitted to include RM8.2 billion which had been allocated for the PMD, under a separate category for “development”. So, in 2010, Najib’s PMD received RM12 billion.

Liew alleges that there has been a steep rise in the staffing levels of the PMD. During Mahathir’s tenure, the PMD grew from 4,414 people in 1981 to 9,673 in 2001. There was a meteoric rise to 21, 045 employees in 2003, which ballooned to 25,332 in 2009.

Najib seems to be trying to hide the failure of the PMD to identify the threat to national security posed by the Suluk invasion. He is also trying to distract us from the failure of his transformation programmes, and is playing on the emotions of select audiences who are made to watch the May-13 film, Tanda Putera.

When he appeared on TV3, Najib said, “That [attack on Lahad Datu and Semporna] is an external threat and we must deal with it. So, when we decide to spend on defence and security, people should not question it.”

The rakyat has every right to question our leaders for spending billions of ringgit on armaments, which appear to be overpriced and ineffective.
We certainly must question our leaders when it appears that the purchase price includes a heavy commission. A sum of RM1 billion was allegedly paid to the Defence Minister who purchased the Scorpene submarines.

We have a right to criticise our leaders for neglecting the Suluk threat and waiting 23 days before taking action. We condemn our leaders for depriving us of news when family and friends live and work in the area. We condemn Najib’s tactic of locking up opposition politicians who ask questions on our behalf.

When we criticise the failure of our leaders to handle the Suluk threat, we are not questioning the bravery of the security forces. A prime minister who resorts to silencing the rakyat with lies and obfuscation, does not deserve our vote.

**Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.

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