KOTA KINABALU: United Borneo Front (UBF) chairman Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan told the court that the air crash on June 6, 1976 that killed former Chief Minister Tun Fuad Stephens and all 10 others on board a Nomad aircraft is more than a historical event.
Jeffrey, 63, said it was a tragedy of huge proportions not only affecting the families of the crash victims but also affecting the State and the future of its people.
He said he did not know the real causes of the incident but he would like to know and was curious to know what really happened on that fateful day.
“I really would like to know what happened before that as it might have significant implications after the event,” Jeffrey said during examination-in-chief by counsel Datuk Simon Shim.
He said from his understanding of the causes of the incident after reading the papers the next day after the crash and also read books about it later, at that time there were people merely speculating as no investigation had been done at that time.
“From what I read, they talked about possibilities such as overloading, pilot error, maybe technical defect.
“These are being speculated upon at that time and when you think about it, this speculation raises more questions than answers,” he said.
Jeffrey was testifying before Justice Dato’ Abdul Rahman Sebli on the on-going hearing of a RM50 million suit brought by Tan Sri Harris Salleh against Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president Datuk Yong Teck Lee and the party for allegedly insinuating that he (Harris) was involved in causing the plane crash.
Simon is the counsel for Yong and the party who are the first and second respondents respectively.
Harris, 81, who filed the suit on June 6, last year, is claiming for general damages, aggravated and exemplary damages of not less than RM50 million to be assessed separately against Yong and SAPP as the first and second defendants respectively.
He is also seeking an injunction to restrain the defendants whether by themselves or their servants or employees or agents from printing and publishing further the statements and similar libel in any form or means.
Harris is represented by counsels Yunof Maringking and Trevor Maringking.
To another question from Simon, Jeffrey said he was still interested to know what happened as there had been so many unanswered questions.
“This is a big tragedy involving half of the cabinet ministers and they were supposed to be in Labuan to sign an oil agreement and from what we know, the agreement was not signed and there was a crash including the Chief Minister (CM) who was supposed to sign the agreement.
“And then one week later it was signed by the next CM who took over who was not in that plane and who invited the Petronas chief, the other party to the agreement, out of the plane to another plane.
“So won’t you want to know? Would that not raise so many questions? Would that not lead to so many speculations? Some may even speculate that this incident might have been planned, otherwise why did this tragedy happen? Why was the agreement not signed? Why some people went out of the plane? Why was the agreement rushed when the State and the families were still in mourning?” he questioned.
To a further question from Simon, Jeffrey told the court that on the evening of April 2, 2010, he attended a talk by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah entitled, ‘Minyak Sabah Siapa Punya?’
In that talk, Jeffrey said Tengku Razaleigh was talking about the history of Petronas such as how Petronas was formed and his role in it and whether the five per cent royalty could ever be changed.
Jeffrey said Razaleigh in his speech had also talked about the air crash which really disturbed him.
“He said he was very sad whenever he comes to Sabah because he was being reminded of this incident and he described that particular happening in which he said he was seated in the plane and was already strapped with his safety belt when Datuk Harris came and invited him out and another person to join him in another plane. He said Datuk Harris invited him to visit his cattle farm in Banggi,” he said.
The defendant’s sixth witness said he had never heard of this information disclosed by Tengku Razaleigh and when he heard it, he was shocked and there were murmuring in the hall and then there was complete silence after that.
He said at that time he was also talking to himself that this could be crucial information, and to find out more on what actually happened that day and before that.
“And it could well lead to the truth and maybe give Sabah the opportunity to go back to the 1976 agreement. I am sure people will be equally shocked by the revelation,” he stressed.
When asked by Simon whether the new information as revealed by Tengku Razaleigh merits a new investigation into the incident, Jeffrey said: “Precisely.”
From this new information, Jeffrey said he thought that the oil royalty agreement might be void.
“It seems to me that there are so many unanswered questions, so many doubts that lead me to believe that if you put together this doubt and this question, you begin to wonder why the oil agreement was not signed in Labuan; why some people left the plane against the protocol; why the plane mysteriously crashed; why certain people left the plane just to see a cattle farm; why these said people survive to sign the agreement; why the agreement was rushed to be signed given the tragedy of such magnitude; why didn’t the state government take the opportunity to bring this to the State Legislative Assembly or the Cabinet before it was signed,” he questioned.
“It seems to me that when you look at the whole scenario before, in between and after the incident, it gives you the feeling that something is at play here, meaning, could the state government be under pressure to succumb to the demand of the federal government?”
He also questioned why would any state government or leader want to surrender or give away fundamental state resource at five per cent?
“Don’t you think this is ridiculous; where is the negotiation? I have not heard of any negotiation about the oil agreement between the state and the federal governments,” he said.
He pointed out that under Article 4 of the Petroleum Development Act, the cash payment to the federal government or the state government is subject to agreement between the parties.
“As I said before, it would be stupid of the state to simply agree to give away this fundamental state resource called oil and gas at merely a payment of five per cent. And not only that – why should the state government in this agreement that they signed even waive the five per cent royalty, meaning you not only give away the oil resources but you also give away a royalty of five per cent and accepted a cash payment of five per cent when you could have 10 per cent even if you have given away the oil for five per cent cash payment.
“So because of this, I tend to believe that there is coercion and pressure from the federal government that leads me to say that this agreement is invalid,” he said.
Meanwhile during cross-examination by Trevor, Jeffrey agreed that those present including him did not ask Tengku Razaleigh about the so-called new information as they would not want to put him in an embarrassing situation in public. He however disagreed with Trevor’s suggestion that there was no direct call from the former for re-investigation since there was already a call made by Yong and that he (Jeffrey) merely supported the call by making the statement on April 6, 2010.
To another question from Trevor, Jeffrey agreed with the counsel’s suggestion that there was an official investigation into the air crash and it was reported in the newspaper at that time.
He disagreed with Trevor’s suggestion that the reason why he and his deputy Daniel John Jambun did not proceed further to insist on the call for re-investigation was because he knew that there was no link at all by the statement of Tengku Razaleigh and the case of the air crash in relation to the plaintiff.
When suggested by Trevor that the second defendant had made a call or invitation to members of UBF which is headed by him to stand under the party in the upcoming general election, Jeffrey said: “I am not aware or seen any such invitation.”
He further disagreed with Trevor’s suggestion that it was in his interest that the second defendant did not lose this case because UBF was working together with the second defendant in the upcoming general election.
Meanwhile, when Yunof suggested that there was silence among the audience who attended Tengku Razaleigh’s talk because most of those in attendance were not yet born when the air crash happened and did not know the facts until the first defendant sensationalised what Tengku Razaleigh revealed in his introductory speech, Jeffrey said he disagreed with the suggestion.
Jeffrey also disagreed with Yunof’s suggestion that since the ownership of petroleum onshore or offshore of Sabah had already been vested into Petronas by virtue of Section 2 of the Petroleum Development Act, there was no need to sacrifice so many leaders in order to force Sabah to sign or accept the five per cent cash payment under the agreement that was supposed to have been signed on June 6, 1976.
Hearing continues on December 22.