Deputy Finance Ministerís reply a great slur to the professionalism of the  Royal Malaysian Air Force as well as contempt for the life and safety of our airmen

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The parliamentary reply yesterday by the Deputy Finance Minister,  Datuk Mohd Shafie Mohd Salleh that the government spent RM152 million and bought the M4801 Global Express (GE) Executive Jet  from the Bombardier Incorporation of Canada because it valued the safety and life of the leaders in view of the high accident rate of RMAF planes is a great slur on the professionalism of the Royal Malaysian Air Force as well as contempt for the safety and life of our airmen.

Mohd Shafie said the Government decided to buy the jet to transport the country's  leaders following the frequent accidents involving the Royal  Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) planes which were used for the  purpose previously.

He said that the RMAF lost 29 pilots in the last 10 years through accidents  due to technical problems, bad weather conditions and pilot  errors.

"We value life and wish to see our leaders safe on air planes.  Life is worth more than money." he said.

Members of the RMAF are entitled to ask why the government does not equally value their safety and  life, by condemning them to the death traps in the RMAF.

This is the first time any government leader had admitted that the executive jet was purchased because the government leaders were not safe in RMAF planes.

In November 1998, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said the government  was buying a new jet as the former one did not have sufficient range. The  Global Jet could fly non-stop from Kuala Lumpur to London or  from Tokyo to New York with a load of 1,600 pounds, four crew members and  eight passengers.

Mohd Shafieís slur on the professionalism of the RMAF must be taken seriously as it was in March last year that the Royal Malaysian Air Force was conferred new colours by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Ja'afar at the Subang air force base to commemorate its 40th anniversary since its establishment on June 2, 1958, when started off with only 12 men and two Twin Pioneer aircraft.

There would not be very much to commemorate if the government had made clear earlier that it did not have a very high opinion of the excellence and professionalism of  the RMAF to the extent that government leaders would not trust their safety and life to the RMAF planes.

Three  issues are involved here.

Firstly, is it the right attitude for government leaders to take to have a special RM150 million executive jet for themselves on the ground that RMAF planes are not safe.

In May last year, the Prime Minister  congratulated the commander and crew of the C130 RMAF Hercules transport plane for flying a 22-metre long mast to Azhar Mansor's yacht, Jalur Gemilang, in the Falklands but the government  would not  trust the safety and life of government leaders in RMAF planes.

As a wag asked on the Internet: "Next we will need to build a separate highway exclusively for our dear leaders because of the present highway's poor safety record."

Secondly, what is exactly the air safety record of the RMAF and where does it rank among  the safest air forces in the world?  Past  DAP calls  for a full inquiry into the frequent RMAF plane crashes had always been dismissed out-of-hand, but the country is now told that there is basis for the DAPís concern.

Thirdly, what steps have the government taken to remove the death traps in the RMAF to protect the safety and life of our airmen?

The Malaysian air force is short of pilots by as much as 40 per cent because of migration to the private sector, and it  could  only retain 30 percent of its expert staff from all ranks and those with between 18 and 22 years of service.

The government should commission a high-level and comprehensive  inquiry into the air safety record of the RMAF, going back to ten or even twenty years, to establish how Malaysia ranks with other air forces, pin-point the real causes whether they are primarily caused by men or machines, and to come up with recommendations to redeem the honour and professionalism of the RMAF.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman