Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Azmi barbecued over Eurocopter findings

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairperson Azmi Khalid has come under intense fire for clearing the government over the suspended RM1.6 billion Eurocopter deal.

In lambasting the former home minister, DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang cautioned him against creating the wrong impression.

"Azmi should be conscious that he should not act or conduct himself in any manner as to create suspicion or doubt whether he is being influenced by thoughts of getting back to the cabinet in the new Najib (Abdul Razak) administration beginning in five months time," he said in a statement today.

Yesterday, Azmi told a press conference that PAC found no procedural abuse in the suspended Eurocopter purchase but voiced concern that no physical examination was carried out.

He said PAC also proposed the formation of an independent review panel to look into large purchases.

Commenting on this, Lim said the PAC chairperson's statement had created consternation, disbelief and dismay of right thinking Malaysians and undermined public confidence in the parliament institution.

"Azmi cleared the government of grave procedural abuse in the tender process. However, in the next breath he admitted there was grave procedural abuse as no physical evaluation and test flights of the helicopters concerned," he added.

'Unilateral rush'

According to the Ipoh Timur MP, Azmi was guilty of an 'unilateral rush' to 'whitewash' the alleged grave procedural abuse in the Eurocopter helicopter tender process.

"Can he (Azmi) explain why he is prepared to overlook the grave procedural abuse of not having any physical evaluation and test flights of the helicopters tendered by claiming there was no procedural abuse?" he asked.

"As I pointed out in Parliament on Thursday during the winding-up of the Defence Ministry by Deputy Defence Minister Abu Seman Yusop, the helicopter tender documents specifically provided for 'documentary evaluation' in Section 37 and 'physical evaluation' in Section 38.

"We have here another instance of the conflicting claims and justifications by top government leaders for the Eurocopter deal fiasco, not only in three different versions for its price, but also on its evaluation," he said.

Lim said Abu Seman gave 'three ridiculous reasons' in parliament as to why there was no need to comply with the tender document requiring physical evaluation and test flight of the helicopters tendered.

On the other hand, he said Najib, who was defence minister when the helicopter deal was clinched, claimed that 'joyrides' of the Couger EC725 helicopter by RMAF pilots at the Lima Airshow in Langkawi were adequate as physical evaluation and test-flights.

"Why is Azmi swallowing 'line, hook and sinker' the government excuses for a gross abuse of procedure in the Eurocopter helicopter deal instead of showing an independent and critical mind which are the prerequisites for a conscientious PAC chairperson?" he asked.

Lim also explained that he was referring to Azmi personally and not the PAC because he was informed that no vote had been taken of the committee members for the PAC finding claimed by Azmi.

In fact, he said, this alleged finding of PAC is clearly not the views of all PAC members and it is most unfair and undemocratic for Azmi to claim that PAC had reached any such finding when it is not the case.

When is the report due?

Lim also saw red that his call for PAC to probe the suggestion by a former Nuri pilot that a better proposition is for an upgrade of the existing helicopters which will cost only a few hundred million ringgit was rejected by Azmi.

"I do not hold any watching brief for Sikorsky, the manufacturer of Nuri helicopters, and have no objection to the phasing out of the Nuris, if this is the considered opinion of any independent study of the matter as my top priority is the safety of the RMAF personnel using the helicopters.

"What I cannot accept is that Azmi has taken upon himself to pass such a judgement not as a result of an full inquiry by PAC, but because of the advice he had received by some Defence Ministry official," he said.

"If the PAC chairperson is going to be a puppet of any top ministry official, what is the use of having a PAC in the first place," he added.

Lim also asked when Azmi and PAC will submit its report on the Eurocopter inquiry to parliament for debate.

"Can the report be tabled by before the end of this month? Azmi must not forget that PAC is only a committee of the Dewan Rakyat which has the final responsibility to endorse, revise or reject its report and recommendations," he said.

According to Lim, this is the reason why there is a commonwealth parliamentary convention requiring opposition parliamentarians to become head of PAC.

This is to ensure it would not be bullied or overawed by the executive, he added.

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