Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad did nothing to stop the slide in Sabah's finances, says former chief Minister Harris Salleh.
KOTA KINABALU: Former Sabah chief minister Harris Salleh has accused Dr Mahathir Mohamad of duplicity during his 22-year tenure as prime minister, which saw the Bornean state rapidly fall from riches to rags.
Lashing out at the man who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1981 to 2003, Harris said in a statement that Mahathir was to be blamed for the current impoverished state Sabah is in.
“Had he mentioned and practised the rule of law, Sabah would remain the richest state,” Harris said in response to Mahathir’s lecture recently at Universiti Malaysia Sabah .
Harris was irked by Mahathir’s claim that Sabah, which was declared as the poorest state in the country by the World Bank, would take back its mantle as the richest Malaysian state soon.
Harris, who helmed the Berjaya state government from 1976 to 1985, said there were many instances when the former premier and the federal government had failed the state.
One instance, he cited, was the federal government’s disregard of an audit report by Price Water House that pointed to a RM4 billion shortfall in Yayasan Sabah accounts.
He said even when Mahathir announced the missing funds in 1994, alleging fraud, he failed as a prime minister to act through.
He had all the powers to correct any wrongdoings, recover the funds and prosecute the culprits, but did nothing.
“Anything announced by a prime minister is a serious matter. Since there was no action taken against the wrongdoers on the issue, the people take it for granted that the announcement by the then prime minister was just another political slogan to suit and pacify himself only,” he said.
If Mahathir proceeded according to the law, Harris said, the people of Sabah through the foundation, which was set up by the Usno government in the 1970s, would be richer by RM6 billion now.
‘Dr M knew about fraud’
Scoffing at the former premier’s rosy outlook for Sabah in the long term, he said Mahathir was merely pointing out that the state was rich in natural resources, a fact widely known.
Based on this fact, he said, Sabah and its people should have become rich many years ago as the state had been exporting its natural resources since the time of the British colonial government and right up to now.
“Unfortunately, nobody dare(s) to single out why Sabah is now the poorest state in Malaysia,” he said, adding that being endowed with natural resources does not automatically make a country and its people rich as could be seen around the world.
He said that an analysis would show that the state was mismanaged by successive governments and also because the authorities and voters had been turning a blind eye to corruption right up to the present day.
Harris added that the failure by the federal government to act, despite clear indications that something was not right in the management of state resources, only indicated that such corruption and fraud was condoned.
He also said that despite Mahathir’s optimistic outlook, there was no guarantee that Sabah would become rich anytime soon.
Harris also dismissed claims that Sabah’s rich natural resources would play a roll in helping to make its people rich as its oil and gas and oil palm lands are not in the hands of Sabahans.
“Oil and gas are controlled by non-Sabahans and this is also true for oil palm plantations. Therefore, there is not much left for Sabahans to do and carry out economic activities,” he said, pointing out that even workers in both sectors are mostly non-Sabahans.
Harris also said that while more than 90% of the cash from both sectors was already being siphoned off to Peninsular Malaysia, it was a “double-whammy” that the federal government had awarded gambling licences to certain companies.
This, Harris said,will further drain away half-a-billion-ringgit from the state based on figures gathered by the Sabah Chinese Chamber of Commerce 10 years ago.
Sabahans’ best bet under the current scenario, he said, was to gradually move from low income to middle income by planting cash crops and produce.
He added that the state should also export tapioca starch and chips which were in demand in China.