“Loose Talk Could Sink This Ship”
“The Walls Have Ears”
The above are among reminders you would normally see then in a military establishment. Whether or not these reminders are being repeated today remains to be answered. At least such reminders should be repeated in all courses attended by military personnel.
Back in the 1970s, at the height of the Second Emergency, soldiers got killed after wives talked eagerly in public about the husbands going for operations against communist terrorists. Mind you, wives and children are the only people in any military establishment that are never vetted by security agencies.
One such wife was even employed as a typist at one military establishment. For years she mailed the carbon papers of each important military correspondence to the intelligence service of a neighbouring country before she was arrested.
In the late 1980s, 10 officers and men of the Armed Forces were nabbed by military intelligence after they were found to have sold strategic defence files to the intelligence agencies of a neighbouring country. The highest amount paid for a file was USD96,000 for a document on contingency defence plans of a particular state. The rest were defence plans of an Air Force Base, a naval base, and the layout of a military hospital.
In the Armed Forces too you have channels to complain or air your grouses. Your quarters is leaking, you complain to the Facilities Officer. Your mess food sucks, you complain to the Mess Messing Member, or in the case of the other ranks (rank and file if you must), complain to the Duty Officer who is supposed to eat the food you eat with you. Your senior officer has wronged you, the Armed Forces Act, 1972 allows you to seek redress of wrong. Your indelible ink wears off your finger in less than a day, you complain to the Officer Commanding the Administration Branch. Better still, if it is on the same day of voting, you complain to the Elections Commission officers at your place of voting.
There is a reason that you are an Armed Forces member and not a civilian. It means that you are not a civilian. You come from a highly disciplined institution that lives by its codes of rules, regulations, standing orders and orders. You cannot whine like an old lady in public, more so when you are in uniform.
Former Major Zaidi bin Ahmad was a good officer, until the day he appeared in the photo above. He was my junior by two intakes. He was a good pilot. He flew the F-5E Tiger II before progressing to a F-18 Hornet driver, after which he was picked to lead No.12 Squadron (F-5E Tiger II) as its Commanding Officer. He was a quiet man, well-mannered, and according to those who know him, it was no secret that he is a staunch supporter of PAS.
There is nothing about being a military man and have a liking for whichever political party. When I was a serving officer, I told my men that they were free to vote for anyone they wished, but as a member of His Majesty’s Air Force, they should remain apolitical in their conduct.
Granted that Zaidi might have had good intention by talking about his experience with the indelible ink, he went against the Armed Forces Council’s Order No. 13 of 1960. What more, he was wearing his uniform. As a member of the Armed Forces, you are not to talk to the media unless you have prior clearance from the Public Relations Office at both the Air Force HQ and the Ministry of Defence. You might be subjected to unguided and mischievous questions and you might answer wrongly. You might give away more than you should, as the information you are privy to may cause harm to the defence of the nation if leaked whether intentionally or unintentionally.
After the episode above, he was under investigation I presume, and an orders signal was issued for him to be transferred to a lesser sensitive post pending investigation. Each signal (in the civilian world before the advent of the E-Mail is much like the telegram) is either an unclassified document (Pendarjahan TERBUKA), or RESTRICTED and above (Pendarjahan TERHAD ke atas). I would expect the signal pertaining to his transfer was classified as PERSONNEL-IN-CONFIDENCE (SULIT DARIHAL ANGGOTA).
A transfer is normal when one is under investigation. Policemen under investigation are always transferred to “desk” duties. The same applied to Zaidi. Instead, perhaps for political reasons, he decided to show the signal to journalists who do not have the necessary security clearance to be privy to the information on the signal.
One might argue that a transfer order is hardly detrimental to the security of the nation. Well, in this case, maybe it wasn’t. It is not so much the content that is in question but the act of showing any document to those unauthorised to view it. Imagine if his grouses are bigger, I cannot imagine what a Commanding Officer of a fighter squadron, charged with taking care of the nation’s defence, could and would reveal to unauthorised people. That act, to me, shows how this senior officer’s conduct was very unbecoming, and is not trustworthy to be looking after the nation’s defence. To add insult to injury, Zaidi even sent out an SMS in the form of a political incitement; definitely unbecoming of a senior officer of the Armed Forces.
Was the punishment of being discharged from His Majesty’s service received by Zaidi harsh? My answer is a definite no. Firstly, Zaidi was a senior officer and a Commanding Officer. He was not some less-educated Private or Airman. He was charged under Section 50 (2) and Section 51 of the Armed Forces Act, 1972, for disobedience to superior officer and disobedience to standing orders.
If I may read to you the punishments prescribed by these sections. They read:
Every person subject to service law under this Act who, whether wilfully or through neglect, disobeys ny lawful command of his superior officer/standing orders shall, on conviction by court-martial, be liable to imprisonment or any less punishment provided by this Act.
The scale of punishments for an Officer of the Armed Forces prescribed by the Armed Forces Act, 1972, can be found in Section 89 (2) of the Act. They are:
Imprisonment to a term not exceeding 14 years,
Dismissal with disgrace from His Majesty’s service,
Dismissal from His Majesty’s service,
Forfeiture of seniority of rank,
Dismissal of an officer from the ship he belongs to,
In the occasion of expense, damage, or loss, stoppages.
In the case of Zaidi’s, the gravity of his offences and his rank and position make only the first four punishments applicable to him. However, since the death punishment is out of the question, the members of the Court-Martial chose the least: dismissal from His Majesty’s service, meaning that he is still entitled to his benefits.
Is that harsh? Not at all. There have been officers dismissed for lesser offences. Examplary? Yes. And very necessary.
Zaidi no doubt was a good guy. However, his political beliefs led him to do what every officer and man of His Majesty’s Armed Forces should not do: disobey orders and putting the uniform you wear to shame. A King’s Officer does not whine about his grouses in public like a yeast-infected aunt. He should live the organised life of his organisation instead of abusing his uniform for his own benefit. There were channels he could have gone through but no. He thought he knew best and in doing so he did injustice to his family.
He is now a political celebrity, a nicer way to call a donkey in politics. He will now be part of a circus act and may earn a bit from the collection made from the spectators of the nightly circus shows he will be performing in, all in the misguided name of justice. Once the next general elections is over, we hope he would have found a steady job by then.