Sabah Illegal ICs: The Buck Stops with Mahathir

By Kee Thuan Chye
Yahoo! News
13th Sept 2013

Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad drew considerable laughter last Wednesday when he gave testimony at the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on illegal immigrants in Sabah. One hopes the laughter was laced with irony and scepticism.

Irony and scepticism because it seems unlikely, going by reports of the proceedings, that anyone listening to some of the things he said could find them acceptable.

The most unacceptable was his saying that he had not heard about Project IC or Project M (for Mahathir) until only recently, and that the Government could not be held responsible for the issuance of illegal identity cards (ICs) to immigrants who had entered Sabah illegally.

“These illegal immigrants may have been issued the identity cards erroneously or it may have been the wrongdoing of certain low-ranking civil servants,” he said, expressly passing the blame on to others.

Well, if it were a matter of only a few hundred ICs, we might say these civil servants acted corruptly on their own and out of their personal greed, but a key witness has earlier testified at the RCI that in 1993 alone, about 100,000 ICs were issued to immigrants in Sabah. One hundred thousand in one year is a staggering number. How likely is that to have been a private enterprise undertaken by “low-ranking civil servants”?

It is a requisite of leadership that the leader is accountable for what his underlings do. Especially when it is something serious – in fact, treasonous. We’re not talking here about giving out free food vouchers or concert tickets. We’re talking about giving out citizenships illegally. Mahathir’s disavowal of knowledge about its happening does not exonerate him. He was the CEO of Malaysia. Ignorance is no defence. He has to take responsibility.

Besides, it’s extremely unlikely that he was not aware of it at the time when so many ICs were given out, under what was apparently an organised programme, and leaders of Sabah political parties were making a hue and cry about it. The prime minister does not live in a cocoon, much as Mahathir would want us to believe.

We can also bet our bottom ringgit that he could not have found out about Project IC or Project M only recently when the issue has been out in the media for years, with specific naming of the project. A man like Mahathir who is so well-informed of developments must surely have heard of Project IC or Project M way before “recently”.

In fact, people were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for alleged involvement in the issuance of identity cards to foreigners, like Hassnar Ebrahim (who was arrested in 1988), Akjan Ali Mohamad (in 1995), Ramli Kamaruddin (in 1995), Mohd Nasir Sugip (in 1995), Kee Dzulkifly Kee Abdul Jalil (in 1995) and Abdul Rauf Sani (in 1996).

Most of them have testified at the RCI and admitted issuing tens of thousands of ICs illegally. Some have also alleged that they received instructions to do this from then deputy home minister Megat Junid Megat Ayub. They have also claimed that they carried out their operations in the Kampung Pandan home of Aziz Shamsuddin, Mahathir’s then political secretary.

They were detained when Mahathir, apart being from the premier, was also minister of home affairs. He held the portfolio from 1986 to 1999. In that capacity, he would have known about the arrests and the reasons for them. He probably signed the detention orders himself.

So how could he say to the RCI, “Hassnar? I have never heard of him. I am also not aware that he had been arrested under the Internal Security Act.”?

He also said something outrageous when he said it could have been the decision of the National Security Council (NSC) to detain Hassnar. Who was he trying to fool? Since 1971, the function of the NSC has been that of coordinating policies related to national safety. It does not detain people under the ISA. Surely, Mahathir knows this since the NSC is part of the Prime Minister’s Department and chaired by the prime minister.

Would he claim “I don’t remember” to something like this? As he did numerous times when he testified at the RCI on the V.K. Lingam case in 2007 involving the fixing of judges? As he has also done now at the Sabah RCI in claiming that he didn’t remember giving specific instructions to former Sabah chief minister Mustapha Harun when the latter allegedly sought his approval to issue ICs to illegal immigrants?

Mahathir’s performance at the RCI was expected. From the media reports, his characteristic arrogance came through. He toyed with the questioners. He played to the gallery, cracking jokes and making light of the serious proceedings. He avoided giving meaningful answers by making jokes.

When the RCI chairman, Steve Shim Lip Kiong, asked him why Joseph Pairin Kitingan was not made chairman of the State Security Council when by convention he should have been as he was the chief minister, Mahathir said, “I don’t know the exact reason, but there were many reasons.” What kind of an answer is that?

Mahathir was, however, unequivocal in his sympathy for the immigrants. “We are very considerate about their plight and try to help them as much as possible,” he said. “Our neighbours don’t want to accept these people. We can’t just throw them into the sea. This was my view when I was the prime minister.”

This is a real surprise coming from the man who when he was deputy prime minister said in 1979 that if Vietnamese illegal immigrants tried to land on Malaysian shores, the Government would shoot them. However, the next day, the Government had to deny it, because of an international outcry. And Mahathir – adopting the habit we are now so familiar with – blamed foreign correspondents for misinterpreting his statement. But he didn’t say how he had been misinterpreted.

Well, over the decades, Mahathir has shown that he is never wrong. That he has never made a mistake. Not even once during his premiership. As far as Mahathir Mohamad is concerned, Mahathir Mohamad is perfect. When have we ever heard him admit a mistake? When have we ever heard him apologise for anything?

But even so, much as he would deny responsibility for the IC disaster in Sabah, much as he would claim that he was not responsible for everything Megat Junid had allegedly done in that regard, the fact remains that he is. The buck stops with the prime minister. That’s the crux. And it’s about time he admitted that.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.

  1. #1 by observer1234 on Friday, 13 September 2013 - 11:05 am

    I have no doubt in my mind that history will prove that the biggest tragedy ever happened to Malaysia is to have Mahathir as the Prime Minister for 22 years. But what saddens me even more is that no authority in this country seem to be able to bring him to books, despite his blatant abuse of power and corruption during his tenure as PM. From the way his made fun of the RCI, he is telling us that he cannot be “touched”! There is a reason why neighboring countries are progressing faster than us in many fronts, the lack of accountability and transparency in our country must be at the main reason!

  2. #2 by Cinapek on Friday, 13 September 2013 - 12:39 pm

    The alleged involvement of TDM in Project M can be compared to the alleged involvement of Najib in the Altantuya murder. There are too many coincidences of the involvement of their close confidants and aides and testimonies by independent witnesses of their involvements. These witnesses are ordinary people and it must take a lot of courage and strength of conviction to dare to accuse these powerful people (PMs, no less) of serious wrongdoings. Why would any ordinary people in his right mind would want to accuse someone as powerful as TDM as being involved? On a scale of probability I would rather believe the little guy who has nothing to gain but everything to lose than the powerful guy who has everything to lose and nothing to gain to tell the truth.

    And when the scandal of the Project M first broke wide open just before GE13, TDM made the scandalous public remark that his actions in awarding the ICs to the illegals can be favourably compared to Tunku’s award of citizenships to the non Malays when Malaysia gained independence. In making this remark, he did not deny he was involved in the Project IC. Instead, his remarks indicated he was defending his actions. In other words, in defending his actions, he is in effect admitting he did commit those acts but he saw no wrongdoing in them.

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Friday, 13 September 2013 - 1:43 pm

    Here is really where Mahathir made a mistake – he said he can’t remember BUT he remembers clearly that EVERY ANWAR WAKING MOMENT DID NOT STOP PROECT IC, he also remember he every IC he authorized were legal and never one that is not illegal..

    The old adage is very true, once you tell a lie, you have to tell more lies and even bigger lies to cover the lies.

  4. #4 by yhsiew on Friday, 13 September 2013 - 3:35 pm

    ///But even so, much as he would deny responsibility for the IC disaster in Sabah, much as he would claim that he was not responsible for everything Megat Junid had allegedly done in that regard…///

    The sun will rise from the West if Megat Junid dared go ahead with Project IC without his BOSS’ approval.

  5. #5 by bumiborn on Friday, 13 September 2013 - 6:53 pm

    Can Justice be served while encounter with high profile liar? Who belittle the court, make a circus out of it. Just eager to see the verdict.

  6. #6 by worldpress on Friday, 13 September 2013 - 8:29 pm

    A man have no respect to country, no respect to Malaysian, no respect to East Malaysia

    Like this country belong to him

  7. #7 by sheriff singh on Friday, 13 September 2013 - 11:13 pm

    ”The Buck Stops with Mahathir”.

    Well the buck has to stop somewhere. That’s how they all got rich.

  8. #8 by tak tahan on Saturday, 14 September 2013 - 12:29 am

    The buck will only stop when majority Malays rise up to reject racism and corruptions perpetuated by the ring leader-mamaktiuniaseng..can or no can ar ? fat hope,nor?

  9. #9 by Noble House on Saturday, 14 September 2013 - 3:39 am

    In his lone dissenting 77-page wide-ranging judgment, on a high-profile appeal by five former university students charged for unlawful assembly in 2001 to the Court of Appeal last week, the honorable judge Datuk Dr Hamid Sultan Abu Backer, publicly reminded his own peers of their oath to preserve, protect and defend the Federal Constitution – and that they should not be bullied by government leaders and Parliament.

    He said that any unlimited power vested with the executive, which may compromise the fundamental guarantees enshrined in the Constitution, must be struck down by the courts.

    “It is not for the judge to say that the dignity of his office has been stripped by Parliament and accept that the court has no judicial power,” he said.

    He said an obedient judiciary could not stand as a defender of freedom and would result in there being no rule of law. Judicial power was vested since the inception of the Constitution and cannot be removed, he added.

    Hamid said it was for the public to initiate steps to arrest the progress of an obedient judiciary and ensure that the judiciary was independent to protect the Constitution.

    “An obedient judiciary will indirectly promote all form of vice, which in all likelihood will destabilise the nation as well as harmony and security,” he said.

    The oath of the office of judges was to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and any attempt to remove judicial power would be against the basic pillars of the Constitution, he added.

    This is the first time in the history of Malaysia that a judge has held that the requirement for a permit to assemble peacefully under the Police Act 1967 is unconstitutional. Hamid said that in this case there was a requirement under Section 27 of the Police Act to obtain a permit, but in that process the police could not refuse to grant the permit.

    Najib has one last chance to play his card right – but, will he?

  10. #10 by silat88 on Saturday, 14 September 2013 - 4:42 pm

    the mad doctor again, he could not to practice medicine and chose politics instead &
    Malaysians paid the ultimate price. downhill since he took over, poor Sabahans now out numbered due to his arrogrance for Moslem domination and power. he thinks it is a joke and he can do anything as he is above the law.

  11. #11 by on cheng on Monday, 16 September 2013 - 3:34 pm

    So if a head of govt don’t know when so many ic (tens of thousands) issued, AND NONE OF LOWER RANKS OFFICIALS EVER BEEN CHARGED , THEN THAT GUY is not doing his job, BIG FAILURE !!

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