Assistant Minister clarifies RM35m not for plane alone

Datu Len Talif Salleh

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KUCHING, June 10: The Sarawak Ministry of Urban Planning, Land Administration and Environment today clarifies that the RM35 million allocation purportedly being used to buy a fixed-wing plane was actually not for the aircraft alone.

Its Assistant Minister, Datu Len Talif Salleh, explained that the RM35 million was the total cost for the overall project, which comprised the Diamond DA424M-NG propeller-driven aircraft, mission equipment, spare parts, warranty, technical support, training and implementation for a period of five years.

“The cost of RM 35 million was not borne by the Sarawak government but by the federal government through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE). Proposal for acquiring the technology was submitted by the Forestry Department of Sarawak (FDS) to the MNRE under the 11th Malaysia Plan (RMK11). The process of procurement was approved by Ministry of Finance (MoF) and the federal cabinet in 2017,” he said in a statement.

“The FDS will be the implementing agency of the project as they have the expertise and skill to operate the system. Under this project, FDS will share its expertise and service with other government agencies that require such knowledge throughout the country.”

Len Talif emphasized that Sarawak is the largest region in Malaysia, covering a total area of 12.4 million ha, of which 63.7 per cent or 7.9 million ha were under forest cover, as compared to Peninsula Malaysia (5.8 million ha).

Due to the vast and undulating landscape as well as difficult accessibility, FDS had no choice but to leverage on the latest technology to manage and monitor the state’s forest resources through the use of advanced sensing technology, such as satellite imaging and reconnaissance, airborne hyperspectral sensing, RADAR and drone.

“This technology has been declassified for civilian use for the past decades and is not limited to the use of military and aviation,” he said

Len Talif also clarified that the plane was not with the Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom). It is currently being vetted by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM).

“This project is not intended for any economic gain but mainly for research, management and monitoring of forest and natural resources.

“Since YB See Chee How had indicated to lodge reports with the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), we will leave it to the competent authorities to investigate the matter. We will be transparent and give full cooperation to the authorities’ concern,” Len Talif assured.

See, who is Sarawak Parti Keadilan Sarawak (PKR) vice-chairman, yesterday lodged a police report on the purchase of the plane, arguing that the price tag of RM35 million was overpriced.

“It is too expensive. It should be worth between RM3.5 million and RM6 million for the most high-end, with all the surveillance equipment,” See told reporters after lodging the report at the Simpang Tiga police station.

He also wondered why the aircraft was now with Mavcom even though the commission only dealt with private companies, not the government.

See said he would be enquiring with the MACC on the matter on Monday.

FDS acting director Hamden Mohammad had told DayakDaily recently that the four-seater plane, purchased from Austrian firm Diamond Aircraft Industries, had been configured for aerial surveillance and mapping purposes and that it was currently undergoing testing by Mavcom.

Meanwhile, Mavcom, in a press statement today, denied communicating with FDS nor having the plane for testing.

“We would like to categorically state that this is incorrect. Mavcom has not had any communications with the FDS and is not responsible for the technical testing of the aircraft as stated in these news reports,” Mavcom said.

The commission added that it was only an independent body that regulates economic and commercial matters relating to civil aviation.

“Mavcom’s goal is to promote a commercially viable, consumer-oriented and resilient aviation industry that supports the nation’s economic growth. Technical regulations for general aviation falls under the Civil Aviation,” it said.

The purchase of the plane was first reported by The Borneo Post on Oct 26 last year. At that time, it was reported the plane costing RM35 million was to curb illegal logging in the state and was due to be deployed by the middle of this year. — DayakDaily