On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Soaring focus on the RMAF

Certainly, no one would be convinced that a small band of low-rung corporals are able to plan the entire logistics of finding a buyer, stealing the engines and shipping them off.

The engines are sophisticated machines and only those with extensive knowledge of their functions and worth would be able to pull off such a despicable act.

And even if it is true that some clever low-ranking officers were capable of pulling off this theft, the head of some top officials should roll for allowing this fiasco to take place.

Malaysians are used to reading, or at least hearing, stories of our leaders who steal from our coffers. It could be plain bribery, either a huge commission or a generous winning bet at the golf course, but this one takes the cake.

Last week, the RMAF denied that 41 personnel, including a brigadier-general, were sacked because of the theft of the two RM50mil turbo jet engines.

In a statement on Thursday, the RMAF said the 41 were sacked due to incompetency and poor working performances.

It added that the decision to give them the boot was taken before the engines were discovered missing.

Several senior RMAF officers, including generals, are expected to be questioned following the theft of the General Electric J85-21A afterburner turbojet engines (the power plant for the single-seater F-5E Tiger 11 and RF-5E Tigereye).

Few of us have heard of those in the civil service, including the armed forces, being sacked for incompetency.

There would be no end to the sacking of civil servants in an over-bloated administration if they were actually sacked for lousy performances.

We have now been told that four people, including three low-ranking personnel, were arrested and released on bail over the theft. It’s the small fry again.

Would we be told soon that there was no evidence to implicate the generals and that they were too clever to be caught?

Would this theft be soon forgotten with the press losing interest as they move on to other subjects with greater news value?

If this had not been exposed by the media, we would never have known about it as it was obvious that the RMAF, being non-civilians, were trying to resolve the matter within the RMAF. Until a police report was lodged, would the theft have possibly been uncovered?

Assuming we accept what the RMAF wants us to believe, that this is the work of some small-time thieves, a serious breach of security has taken place and seemingly with ridiculous ease.

We are furious because the theft took place in 2007, an audit revealed the loss in 2008, and the public only knew about it at the end of 2009.

A police report, we are now told, was also only made very much later although the theft took place two years earlier. It seemed to suggest that there was no urgency on the part of the RMAF.

It has been reported that the Argentinians do not use these two jets. Obviously, the next question would be where exactly the engines are heading.

The F-5E planes were used by the RMAF from 1974 to 1999 before they were replaced by MiG-29N and F/A-18D. The planes, said to be obsolete now, were reactivated for reconnaissance and training purposes in 2003.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Defence Minister Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi have pledged that those responsible would be punished. Indeed, it can only be good for the administration if these traitors are punished and shamed.

It makes little sense to protect these thieves as doing so, even in the most subtle form, would only send the wrong signal to others.

There is no need to be defensive and it would be wrong for the RMAF to think it is good press relations to try to cover up or attempt to protect those who are responsible.

The theft has not only astonished Malay­sians but, following press reports, it has also made many question whether we overpaid for these engines.

There is big demand for J85 engines; you only need to go online to sites like www.speednews.com to get more details for such items and the prices that buyers would pay.

It’s time the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency steps in to find out whether hefty kickbacks were paid for these engines.

It’s no longer just a simple theft and the MACC must also now ask a simple but relevant question: were the engines worth the price we paid for them?

There have been claims that these engines are probably only worth RM7mil in the market.

Malaysian taxpayers have a right to seek answers about the RM50mil because this involves our money.

It would seem that Santa Claus came much earlier for some people in the RMAF. We need to recover their stolen presents because they don’t belong to them.