SHAH ALAM: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad yesterday defended the granting of citizenship to foreigners in Sabah as a “lawful” act and denied knowledge of any political considerations involved.
The former prime minister acknowledged that the government under his watch had granted citizenship to foreign nationals who fulfilled the conditions.
“I never denied that citizenship was given. What I deny is that I did something against the law,” Mahathir told reporters after delivering a public talk on the future of Malays after the upcoming general election organised by the Malay daily Sinar Harian. Mahathir has been accused of sanctioning the exercise dubbed “Project IC” or “Project M” under which citizenship was given to immigrants in exchange for their votes.
Mahathir faced a barrage of questions from reporters yesterday on witness testimony in the ongoing Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) in Kota Kinabalu which is investigating the issue of undocumented immigrants in Sabah being granted citizenship.
On Wednesday, a former senior officer with the National Registration Department (NRD) made startling allegations in his testimony before the commission on how undocumented immigrants in Sabah were roped in to vote in the 1994 state election.
Former Sabah NRD director Ramli Kamarudin alleged that the then deputy minister of home affairs, the late Tan Sri Megat Junid Megat Ayub, had ordered him to issue foreigners with NRD receipts which matched the details of registered voters.
Ramli alleged that these foreign nationals were then given RM20 and taught how to vote, in an exercise that involved up to six state constituencies that were deemed challenging for the ruling party to retain.
However, Mahathir said he did not know if Megat Junid’s instruction was “coincidental or deliberate” to influence the Sabah election.
Mahathir: Why do we rejectthem? They're needed bySabah.
Mahathir, who led the country from 1981 to 2003, maintained that citizenship granted before elections does not necessarily mean it is against the law.
The former prime minister said many foreigners in Sabah were not new immigrants and had assimilated, having lived in the state for decades.
“Many in Sabah have been there for over 20 to 30 years. They speak Malay. They have the right to be citizens. The problem is some people don’t like them to be citizens.
“Why do we reject them? They work. If they commit crime, they are subject to the law. They are needed by Sabah,” he said.
Mahathir pointed out that the country’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, had also dished out citizenship to many unqualified persons when he was in power.
“So why is it when he does it, it is not wrong but when I do it, it is wrong? I did what was within the law,” Mahathir said.The RCI also heard that foreigners make up over 27% of Sabah’s 3.2 million population — 889,000 people.
This is based on census data which logs whether a person is a Malaysian citizen but does not record details on whether they are documented or undocumented.
Mahathir told newsmen that the RCI had not subpoenaed him as a witness but that he will attend the proceedings if he is called to do so. In 2008, he appeared before the RCI investigating allegations that judicial promotions had been fixed by a senior lawyer.
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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on Jan 18, 2013.