Minister insists Singapore PM’s flights costlier than Putrajaya’s jets

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) takes a self-portrait with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on the sidelines of the the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka, November 15, 2013. — Picture from Lee’s Twitter
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) takes a self-portrait with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on the sidelines of the the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka, November 15, 2013. — Picture from Lee’s Twitter

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 19 — Minister Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim today sought to fend off allegations of excess in Putrajaya’s use of private jets, claiming it would cost more to follow Singapore’s choice to charter flights for government leaders.

Saying that Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers were misguided in praising Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for choosing travel on a commercial airliner on his way to a recent summit, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said the flight was chartered and could not be considered commercial.

“They say the Singapore PM uses a commercial flight; that’s not true. If you look at the summit at the airport you see his plane parked with the rest. That means he chartered the plane and not fly on a commercial flight like what is claimed.

“To charter the plane is more expensive than to use your own plane,” he told a press conference in Parliament here.

Yesterday, PR lawmakers were up in arms over the cost to maintain the government jet ACJ319, the private aircraft used to fly the prime minister and other government officials, much like the Air Force One in the US.

On October 3, it was disclosed in Parliament that Putrajaya spends RM28.8 million in annual rental and RM5.5 million to maintain the jet.

On top of that, as much as RM44 million in taxpayers’ funds were used to fund the prime minister’s overseas travel since 2008.

The revelation came amid Putrajaya’s call for the Malaysian public to adapt to subsidy withdrawals as the government aims to trim its ballooning debt.

Opposition MPs have branded the call hypocritical, accusing government leaders of living lavishly as seen from their hefty allowances and huge monthly pay.

But Shahidan claimed it was wrong to assume that there was abuse in the use of the private jet or in the prime minister’s travel expenses, and called on detractors to “repent”.

“It’s not nice to make such allegations. There was never any power abuse in this case... so I advise those who exploit this issue to repent. Repent before god makes you repent,” he said.

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