KOTA KINABALU, Jan 15 — Former Sabah Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh denied today the existence of “Project IC”, where citizenship was allegedly given to immigrants for votes.
Harris, who administered Sabah from 1976 to 1985, stressed to the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on illegal immigrants here that he had no authority to give blue identity cards to immigrants.
“As far as I know, officially or unofficially, there’s no ‘Project IC’,” Harris told the RCI.
Asked why immigrants in Sabah seemed to be getting citizenship faster than other people, he said: “The final authority is not with the state government. It’s with the federal government. That question should be posed to the federal government.”
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the country’s longest-serving prime minister who ruled from 1981 to 2003, has been repeatedly accused of spearheading “Project IC”.
Harris also said that the Sabah state government had no authority to issue permanent residency to immigrants.
“Absolutely, the authority is with the federal government. The state government has no authority. We only assisted the individuals to fill the forms,” said the former Berjaya Party president.
Harris noted that former Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman had said in the 1970s that Muslim refugees could stay in Malaysia, while non-Muslims could go to Australia, Europe or the United States.
“Among the policies adopted by the federal government was to grant citizenships to refugees in accordance with the United Nations charter,” said Harris.
“Based on these policies and as claimed by YAB Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister, it can be concluded that thousands of refugees and Indonesians were accorded citizenships in accordance with the Malaysian constitution,” added the sixth chief minister of Sabah.
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.
The greying former politician added that refugees were welcomed in the 1970s to accommodate the boom in the agricultural and construction industries in Sabah then.
“We were concerned if we don’t settle them, we can never improve Sabah...Filipinos are good construction workers,” he said.
Sabah has 926,638 registered voters, according to a June report in English-language daily, The Star.
The five-member panel inquiry, which is chaired by former chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Steve Shim Lip Kiong, resumes tomorrow.