Published on: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Kota Kinabalu: EX-Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh denied knowledge of a scheme known as "Project IC" to issue the blue Identity Cards to illegal immigrants in Sabah.
"I have never heard about Project IC É I only heard that sometimes in statements or in blogs but I don't read them because they contain false stories," he told the inquiry.
"As far as I am aware, there is no such thing as Project IC," he said, when RCI Chairman Tan Sri Steve Shim asked for clarification.
Asked by Conducting Officer Manoj Kurup the reason immigrants seemed to be getting blue ICs in Sabah, Harris said: "My answer to that is they must be eligible because the power to issue is Kuala Lumpur."
According to him, the State Government only helped to fill up the application forms but the final authority was the Federal Government.
"The question should be posed to the Federal agencies, the National Registration Department, not me," he said.
Harris seemed annoyed when Manoj tried to refer to him the book "007 Lelaki Melayu Terakhir" by MD Mutalib, which contained allegations about his involvement in the issuance of ICs to foreigners.
"No, it is not true, I have never done anything illegal, all I do is legal ... why should I bother suing in court, he has no money to pay, it will be just wasting money and the court's time," he said. "You should ask me factual things, otherwise you are wasting the RCI's time," he told the conducting officer. When pressed if he did it, Harris replied: "No, I don't have the authority to issue Ics."
Harris who was Chief Minister of the Berjaya State Government from 1976 to 1985 said the Federal Government had never reported the number of blue ICs being issued to foreigners in Sabah to the State Government.
"Mr Chairman, the Berjaya State Government, I think (RCI panel member) Tan Sri Herman Luping can understand this, was under pressure by Umno and the Federal Government because we overthrew the Usno Government (and) they were not very happy. "To us as a State Government we accepted what is fair and just the policies of the Federal Government, that's all," he said.
On the issue of refugees, he said when Berjaya formed the government in 1976 there was no proper record of them and that these people were living in terrible conditions such as carton boxes and exposed to rats and mosquitoes.
"It was such a crisis," he said, adding that under humanitarian grounds the State Government agreed to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which provided a US$15 million grant to the State Government to help resettle the refugees and the Federal Government.
At that time, a Settlement Division was formed under the Chief Minister's Department to properly document the refugees running away from conflicts in Mindanao.
This move, he said, not only allowed Sabah to deal with its refugee problem, but to also provide human resources at a time when the construction industry in Sabah was booming.
"If we did not resettle them we could have never improved Sabah," he said, adding previously there was no agency looking into the matter until the division was set up.
He also submitted a written statement to the RCI where he said the Federal Government's policy of allegedly giving preferential treatment to Muslim refugees started during first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman's tenure.
"Tunku announced that Muslims refugees can stay in Malaysia, and non-Muslims in any case preferred either to go to Australia, Europe, or the USA (for resettlement), he said.
"Based on these policies it can be concluded that thousands of the refugees and Indonesians were accorded citizenship in accordance with the Malaysian constitution," he said.
Harris said this policy continued to be in force until today.
Harris also said that the Federal Government had never informed his administration of the number of immigrants in Sabah that were given blue identity cards.