YB Dato Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had on Monday taken over the Defence Ministry, to the pomp and ceremonious welcoming display of military splendor. This is a sort of home coming to a familiar environment for Dr. Ahmad Zahid who is no stranger to the ministry. He was the Political Secretary to the then Defence Minister Dato Seri Mohd Najib back in the early 90’s. As the new minister, he assumes a heavy responsibility to ensure that the Armed Forces remains well equipped and ready to perform its roles and responsibilities, in responding to the domestic demands of the country, as well as the meet the country’s obligations to serve the United Nations in a myriad of roles.
It is heartening to note that Dr. Ahmad Zahid has assured that he will continue the work left by his predecessors, and will at the same time be looking at issues affecting the moral and well being of soldiers. It is true that Malaysian soldiers are an easy lot to look after. Just take good care of their families, and one is assured of the soldier loyalty to the service and his work.
I would like to suggest that Dr. Ahmad Zahid seriously look into the affairs of PERHEBAT, LTAT and PBTM, as these organizations have a significant roles to play in attending to the needs and requirement of both the serving and non-serving members of the Armed Forces. There is still much that these organizations can do to alleviate the economic and social woes normally faced by soldiers upon their retirement, especially those without technical, limited managerial and administrative skills. Admittedly, each organization have a specific charter, function and role to play, but they cannot claim to disassociate themselves from the Armed Forces – that’s sacrosanct.
I was privileged to have met the current PERHEBAT Chairman, Admiral Tan Sri Ilyas Din (Retired) over lunch recently. The discussion centered upon how he wishes to place PERBEHAT on a level where the trainees upon having been trained at PERHEBAT, are ready to go into civilian employment, or have acquired higher level recognizable skills to go into private business. In other words, the trainees leave with an assured productive second employment, and that they are not merely trained without ever seeing the prospects of acquiring an employment. As rightly said by Tan Sri Ilyas, it is the end product that matters, and the success of PERHEBAT will be determined by having to know that all their trainees are usefully and securely employed upon leaving the center.
One important issue raised by Dr. Ahmad Zahid in his first day of office that caught my attention, was the mention that he would like to see the raising of army volunteer units at all parliamentary constituencies. This would mean having volunteer units in all 222 parliamentary constituencies, and if it is going to be a company strength each, that will be equivalent to 55 Infantry Battalions, totaling approximately 27,000 personnel, and this does not take into consideration the supporting combat, logistics and administrative units. This is a phenomenal number, and even getting volunteers to fill in the existing vacancies in the present volunteer organizations is difficult enough.
While the intension is noble, i.e. getting more civilians to be involved and committed to the defence of the country; however, the manner in which the proposal was made appears to have a political connotation. This may be in conflict with the status of the Armed Forces as an organization that is apolitical, and is not affiliated to any particular political outfit, nor has it any vested political interest. It would better serve the country for the existing volunteer organization (army, navy and air force) be restructured to meet national strategic requirements (within affordable budgetary constraints), as an effective second line defence forces. The structuring of volunteer forces to meet the sole requirement of parliamentary constituencies, may not fit well into the overall Armed Forces strategic requirements.
Another aspect that Dr. Ahmad Zahid may want to seriously look into is with regards to broadening the base of the country’s defence industry, with emphasis towards greater specialization, and the production of high value defence products. Admittedly, R&D costs will be excessive, and the ability to indigenously produce some of the country’s defence needs is the only option for the country to progressively attain its self reliance capability in defence equipment, especially at a time when the country has only eleven more years left to reach its aspired developed nation status.
It is now left to Dr. Ahmad Zahid to show the lead, to propel the nation’s defence industry capabilities, and to narrow the technological gap between us and some of our neighbours, and at the same time to bring the level of our Armed Forces to greater heights.
CRUSADE AGAINST CORRUPTION
Posted at 12 pm April 15, 2009