KOTA KINABALU: Former chief minister, Tan Sri Harris Salleh, yesterday denied that there was ever a “Project IC”, a scheme allegedly created to provide Malaysian citizenship to immigrants in Sabah in return for their votes for the government in Sabah.
Harris, who appeared as a witness in front of the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Immigrants in Sabah (RCI), testified that no such project ever existed as claimed by certain quarters.
“I never heard about project IC, I only read it in the newspapers sometimes, some people made accusations in blogs but I never read them because why should I involve my self in all this false stories.
“I don’t want to be involved in all this, they never have proof, they just talk about it, political talk, money talk,” he testified during the second day of the five-day proceeding.
Harris, the sixth chief minister of Sabah from 1976 to 1985, was asked by RCI Chairman, Tan Sri Amar Steve Shim Lip Kiong, if he has any comments on the allegation in regards to the “Project IC”.
“Even if there were anything, the ICs were probably given in a hurry, because they were giving it in thousands and thousands. All those concerned, they were asked to speed up (the process).
“As far as I know, officially or unofficially, project IC does not exist. I can say this honestly,” he said.
Conducting officer, Manoj Kurup, had asked Harris to clarify whether he had made a quote in a book “007: Lelaki Malaysia Terakhir” by Mutalib MD.
Harris declined to give a direct answer, saying that all the illegal activities attributed to him in the book were lies.
“I never did anything illegal. So I don’t want to have to answer that, because what is written in the book are all illegal, not true,” he said.
Harris also denied allegations that he was involved, at least in instructing that identification cards are to be issued to immigrants, saying he did not have the authority to give such instruction even as the Chief Minister then.
According to him, the authority to issue permanent residence status and citizenship lies solely with the Federal Government and the State Government has no prerogative at all on the matter.
“We only assisted, not the federal government, but the individuals to fill the form, we do not have the power (to give approval).
“I believe in the Federal Constitution it says that if the federal government thinks that so and so is eligible, even if the State rejected (it), the federal government can still grant entry to Sabah, if it thinks that it is necessary in the interest of the nation,
“I’m not sure about the legal aspect, if this is correct or not, but I was informed like that. I was told once in a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, they said, you the State don’t talk too much, we have the power under the Constitution,” he said.
Asked by the Commission if he knows whether the information given to him was correct, he said: “No, unfortunately I’m not a lawyer but I was told so”.
To a separate question from Commissioner Tan Sri Herman J Luping, Harris informed that the State Government (had) never categorized in any policy that an immigrant must be a Muslim to be recognized as refugee in Sabah.
He said there were concerns however, that if the refugees were not properly resettled, it may cause problems in the development of Sabah. He added there were also interest in the refugees from the Philippines following a boom in the construction sector at the time of his tenure.
“Most importantly, the federal government (had) acknowledged and accepted these refugees to stay in Malaysia, and we were told that there was also a UN convention to accept refugees at the time,” he said, adding that the policy on refugees has remained the same until today since it was introduced by the then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj.
On how many immigrants and refugees were issued citizenship during his tenure, Harris said, he had no idea as the federal government never reported the matter to the State.
However, in a written statement he submitted to the Commission, Harris had mentioned that there were an estimated of around 150,000 refugees from the Southern Philippines in Sabah at the peak of their migration into the State in 1973.
As to the allegation that immigrants in Sabah seemed to be getting Blue IC and citizenship at a rate faster than the locals, he said that question should be posed to the Federal agencies concerned and not to the State as the matter was under the Federal’s purview.
Another two witnesses, Statistics Department Director, Norezan Wahid and Deputy Director of Citizenship Division, National Registration Department, Nik Norashikin Nik Mansur, were called to testify after Harris.
Norezan in his testimony informed there were 3.2 million people in Sabah based on the population census held in 2010. Out of this figure, he said, about 889,000 were non-citizens.
Norashikin, meanwhile, said 66,682 immigrants were issued citizenship between 1963 and Oct last year, of which the majority or about half were young applicants who declared Malaysia as their country of birth in their application forms.
For those who were born outside Malaysia, successful applicants from China represented the biggest number at over 13,000, Indonesia at second place with over 7,000, and followed by Hong Kong and the Philippines at third and fourth.