Improving Defence Procurement Practices
Lt Col Ahmad Ghazali bin Abu Hassan (Retired, Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan)
As widely discussed in the media, the previous MAF procurement policy practice is riddled with reports of unsuitable weapons and equipment being purchased, poor quality and poor maintenance support and overly exorbitant costs. In short, one may argue that the MAF does not have any procurement policy that is practical and workable that it can adhere to. On the other hand, it can also be argued that the MAF procurement policy is fairly well structured and has the necessary checks and balances in its structure. The shortcoming lies in the MAF inability to adhere to these procedures.
The MAF procurement policy should be closely linked and subservient to its strategic and tactical plans. Failure to observe this principle will result in the inability of the MAF to perform its given tasks effectively and efficiently. Some of the factors that can be attributed to the current state of poor procurement policy and practices are listed below.
· Lack of transparency. Whilst it is acknowledged that some form of confidentiality must be observed, the evaluation, tender and the decision-making process must be fully transparent. The needs and views of the end users and the operational consideration must be made the major determining factors.
· Excessively high cost. Lack of transparency in the procurement exercise makes it vulnerable to abuse, resulting in unnecessary high costs in procuring and maintaining the acquired weapons or equipment. This problem might even be extended to the creation of logistical chokepoints in cases where purchases or support services are restricted to only one single monopolistic provider.
· Unreliable or wrong weapon or equipment acquired. The operational needs must be the main factor for consideration. Inputs from the end users must be referred to, as they are the experts in the area and they would ultimately be the personnel who would be operating the weapon or the equipment.
· Lack of system compatibility. Ad hoc purchases based on considerations other than true operational and strategic needs must be avoided. The possible incompatibilities that need to be avoided include: (1) Incompatibility of systems that might be hostile to each other. This might happen when two systems were purchased from two different countries that are traditionally in adversarial relations; (2) Incompatibility with the existing operating systems or logistical support systems. Equipment or weapon upgrades in support of operational and strategic needs are essentially the aim of a procurement exercise. The new weapon or equipment system as far as possible must be able to operate with a maximum level of compatibility with the system that the new system intends to replace or upgrade.
· Logistics and maintenance problem. Logistics and maintenance problems could be reduced by ensuring as far as possible that the new weapon or equipment system can be maintained within the parameters of the same existing technical and logistical procedures and cultures. Judicious consideration must be taken over privatization and outsourcing options, to avoid excessive cost, creating logistical chokepoints, reduced quality, and in the long run erosion of the technical ability of the MAF to be operationally self sufficient especially in high-level conflict situations.
Proposed procurement practice
The MAF procurement problem currently lies mainly with failure to adhere to existing procedures which if properly observed would not have led to the existing problems of weapons and equipment that lacks operational compatibility and efficiency, and other inherent logistical problems. The solution is really for the MAF to follow current established procurement procedures without exception, and to look at ways and means to continually improve the existing system.
Another additional check-and-balance measure that should be considered is the establishment of a Parliamentary Committee that specifically oversees Mindef defence procurement exercises.
Logistical, compatibility, reliability issues
From MAF strategic and operational point of view, the procurement and financial factor is of secondary importance. As operators, the MAF are concerned with getting the best weapons and equipment to do the job. In this regard, certain factors must be considered.
Firstly, the MAF must be trusted to identify the weapons and equipment that it requires based on its strategic and tactical plans.
Secondly, self sufficiency in defence capability especially in terms of weapons and equipment cannot be fully achieved even by the most technologically advanced nation. The MAF and the government must identify the types of weapons and equipment that the country needs and determine areas in which the country can be fully self reliant, partly reliant on other countries, and due to lack of technical capabilities, totally reliant on other countries
Thirdly, Malaysia in the foreseeable future will continue to rely on imported technology for its defence needs. To ensure the sustainability of its defence procurement policy, Malaysia must be selective in determining the sources of acquisition of its weapons and defence equipment. Possible uncertainties in political relations must be taken into consideration to ensure that the country will not be subject to possible technology sanction or disruption in the continuity of supply. The guarantee of technology transfer should be another factor to consider in the defence procurement policy.
MAF defence procurement policy must effectively support its strategic and operational policies. It must be flexible and not be too dependent on one single source; and planned to support the current and future strategic and operational needs.