KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian navy has agreed to reduce its controversial littoral combat ships (LCS) procurement from six to five units following Defence Minister Mohamad Hasan’s decision to continue the project earlier this month.
In a press conference on Monday (Jan 30), Navy chief Abdul Rahman Ayob said that the order for the first batch of the vessels has been set to five units after the navy’s application was discussed again with the government.
“Originally, it was six units, but when we resubmitted the application and discussed the matter again, we agreed to reduce it to five. So, for the first batch, it has been set at five (units),” he said.
When asked further when the reduction of the number of the ships was agreed upon, Mr Abdul Rahman said: “This decision was made sometime ago when the government decided to continue the LCS project (last year).”
Mr Abdul Rahman also confirmed that the progress of the LCS project has been good, adding that the supplementary agreement on the project will be signed soon.
This, he said, will enable the following process to take place and the construction to be carried out as planned.
“It is okay now. There is nothing surprising. We also hope to get these vessels according to schedule. We are really lacking in high-capacity assets like the LCS.
“With the presence of LCS, it can help us to strengthen (our capability) and carry out our tasks with excellence,” he added.
On Jan 5, Mr Mohamad Hasan said that the first batch was scheduled to set sail as soon as July 2024.
“We will base our consideration purely on commercial basis. We want to make sure the ships are completed.
“If it is not all six, four would be enough so long as they are completed during my tenure in MINDEF,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama when delivering his new year’s message at the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) headquarters.
Mr Mohamad also said that the RM9 billion (US$2 billion) procurement project is an important asset to the country.
The Defence Ministry is expected to receive an allocation of RM17.4 billion in Budget 2023, which is scheduled to be unveiled in February.
In August last year, the Malaysian parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) tabled a report on the procurement of littoral combatant ships, two years after starting a probe into the RM9 billion contract.
The committee said the project to construct six ships was awarded by the Ministry of Defence to Boustead Naval Shipyard through direct negotiation. The government has paid RM6.08 billion or 66.65 per cent of the cost so far.
However, the PAC chairman Wong Kah Woh said that not even one of the LCS ships has been delivered.
“According to our timeline, five LCS ships should have been completed and handed over to us by August 2022,” said Mr Wong who was then Ipoh Timor Member of Parliament.
The issue first drew public attention in August 2020 during the tabling of the 2019 auditor-general’s report in parliament. Altogether, the PAC held nine rounds of proceedings from November 2020 to March 2022.
Among those called up to the proceedings were former defence minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who is currently one of the two deputy prime ministers in the unity government of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
Also called up to the proceedings were then-defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein who held the portfolio from May 2013 to May 2018, former navy head Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar and officials from Boustead subsidiaries.
Former prime minister Najib Razak, who was Ahmad Zahid’s predecessor for the defence portfolio, has also been linked to the scandal.