By Ida Lim
SHAH ALAM, Jan 17 – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today admitted that citizenships were given to foreigners in Sabah, but stressed that it was “within the law”.
The former prime minister was asked to comment on the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on Sabah’s illegal immigrants issue.
“When I was prime minister, I was in power to determine the implementation of government policies.
“The government received foreigners to be citizens if (they) fulfilled certain conditions, furthermore many of those who are in Sabah are there not one, two days but already 20 to 30 years and they speak in Bahasa Melayu, they have the right to be Malaysians,” Dr Mahathir (picture) said at a press conference here.
“So the problem is when there are people who are tidak senang (unhappy) when there are some who become Malaysians although those individuals have already resided in Malaysia, that is what causes problems.”
“Why we want to reject them? They work. If they commit crimes, they are exposed to our country’s laws too. But they are needed by Sabah,” he later added.
Throughout the press conference, he repeatedly stressed that the giving of citizenships to foreigners was “within the law”.
“I never deny it were given. What I deny is that I did something against the law, that I will deny.”
When asked if he was saying that the Project IC was lawful, he said: “Yes, it is lawful.”
Earlier in the press conference, Dr Mahathir was asked if the handing out of citizenships to foreigners was politically-motivated and to enable Umno to take over Sabah.
He replied: “I mean that is their right. Once they become citizens, whether they support Umno, Barisan Nasional, that is their business.”
“We know for a fact that not all of them are supporters of Barisan Nasional,” he added.
He also reminded reporters of the country’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, claiming that he gave out citizenships to those who were unqualified to receive it.
“One should also look back and remember that Tunku Abdul Rahman was worse than me, he gave one million citizenships to people who are not qualified and were not even tested.”
“Why is it when he does it, it is not wrong, and when I do it, it’s wrong?” he asked.
Dr Mahathir, the country’s longest serving prime minister who was in power from 1981 to 2003, has been accused of spearheading the so-called “Project IC”, in which citizenships were allegedly given to immigrants in exchange for their votes.
But former Sabah Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh, who administered the state from 1976 to 1985, denied on Tuesday the existence of “Project IC”.
Yesterday, the late former deputy home affairs minister Tan Sri Megat Junid Megat Ayub was accused of ordering the National Registration Department (NRD)’s Sabah branch to issue temporary documents to allow immigrants to vote in a 1994 state election.
Dr Mahathir was today also asked if he had knowledge of Megat Junid’s alleged order just two weeks before the 1994 state election.
“... (But) that is either coincidental or deliberate, I wouldn’t know. But that is within the law. That it happened before elections doesn’t mean it is against the law,” he said today.