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– by Peter Sibon
KUCHING, Oct 9: The controversy surrounding the purchase of a RM35 million light twin-engine utility and trainer aircraft by the Sarawak Forestry Department (SFD) has been cleared by the federal government.
SFD director Hamden Mohammad was informed of this development by Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources Dr Xavier Jayakumar in Putrajaya last week.
“So now, we hope that the plane will be operational by end of this year or by early next year, as the purchase has been finalised since half of the payment has been paid.
“And now we have to make the necessary arrangements with the new ministry (of Water, Land and Natural Resources), especially for Sarawak. We have to sign some agreements,” he told reporters covering SFD’s Awareness and Innovation Week held at SFD’s Research Development and Innovation Division (RDID) office here today..
Hamden explained that once everything was in order, “we will disburse the final payment before we take delivery of the plane back to Sarawak”.
He pointed out that the price remained the same.
“In fact, we have benefitted from the fixed exchange rate based on the 2016 agreement,” he said.
The plane would be based here, but the scope of its use would be widened to cover the needs of Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah as well.
“The new scope will include assisting other (federal) agencies, such as monitoring the environment and haze for Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah. But its main scope will still be to monitor our forests and for the purpose of research and development,” he stressed.
When asked on Sarawak Pakatan Harapan’s continuous harping on the issue, Hamden asserted that the negotiation was done properly “on the table” and that it involved the federal cabinet and was approved by the Ministry of Finance, Malaysia.
“So, there is no more issue with the present (PH) government,” he said.
The controversy arose when PKR Sarawak lodged a police report against the state government for the latter’s purchase of the plane on June 9. Its state vice-chairman See Chee How had lodged the report at the Kuching Divisional Police Station here.
The Batu Lintang assemblyman claimed he was prompted to make the police report after reading an article ‘Forest Department Sarawak will be able to fly soon‘ published by DayakDaily on June 8.
See had alleged that the government had paid excessive sums for the fixed-wing four-seater DA424M-NG Diamond plane, which was bought using the then Federal Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s allocation. — DayakDaily