Dr Mahathir Mohamad's claim that Sabah will be 'richest' soon, hints that he is privy to facts behind speculations that the state is sitting on the 'biggest oil find in the region'.
KOTA KINABALU: Former Malaysian prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad “predicted” Sabah would very soon become the richest state in term of natural resources. But he also shared a healthy advice for Sabahans – “take up cycling as a means of transport”.
In one stroke he managed to rile up Sabahans and get them laughing at the same time. But then, Mahathir usually has more up his sleeve when he starts dishing out praise and advice especially before an election.
Many believe he is still privy to certain information, especially of the secretive Malaysian oil giant, Petronas.
Throughout the 20 years of his premiership, Petronas was said to have been answerable only to him.
His prediction that Sabah would vault out of its position as among the poorest states in the nation could well be a hint that rumours about the state sitting on the “biggest oil find in the region” is true.
Mahathir suggested that the Sabah-based Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) quickly set up a petroleum engineering faculty in view of an emerging oil and gas industry in Sabah.
He made the proposition while delivering a lecture on Sabah’s socio-politics development in the context of Malaysia at the university campus near here on Workers Day.
“Surely we need engineers in petrochemicals, exploration… we cannot let go off these opportunities just because we don’t have the necessary expertise,” he said.
Malaysia currently produces 650,000 barrels of oil a day and Petronas maximises its income by being involved in both the upstream and downstream activities in the oil and gas industry. In comparison, the world’s biggest producer, Saudi Arabia, pumps out 12 million barrels a day.
However, Jeffrey Kitingan, the man Mahathir accused at one time of promoting the disintegration of Malaysia, sees the federal government again siphoning off Sabah’s wealth as it has been accused of doing for years.
“There is no point if we have the richest state in natural resources like oil and gas but our people languish in poverty for decades since Sabah signed an oil agreement with Petronas in 1976,” he said in response to Mahathir’s hint.
“The federal government would keep pumping out our oil and gas but we, the bona fide Sabahans, have virtually no control whatsoever on our oil, so what is the point?” he said yesterday.
Jeffrey claimed that the federal government has always manipulated Sabah and its meek people and this had resulted in Sabahans becoming the poorest in Malaysia, as stated by the World Bank in its 2010 report even though the state was one of the richest in the 1970s.
“Because of manipulation we never fully benefited from this partnership in a federation. The partnership is not managed the way it should have been managed.
“Mahathir was partly responsible for turning Sabah into an colony of Malaya…” said Jeffrey, who was imprisoned for almost three years under the recently repealed Internal Security Act (ISA) during Mahathir’s premiership.
Saying natural resources are inherently and rightfully owned by Sabah and not by Petronas or the federal government, Jeffrey said the oil agreement signed in 1976 between Sabah and Petronas should be reviewed by the state and federal governments.
Just last week the Sabah Law Association (SLA) also questioned the legality of the Petroleum Development Act 1974, which assigned all the petroleum rights in the country to Petronas, at the same university last week.
SLA constitutional and administrative law issues sub-committee chairman, Sukumaran Vanugopal, argued the legality of the Act in his paper “Formation of Malaysia – The Constitutional Rights of Sabah and Sarawak”.
“The Act might be unconstitutional in view of the fact that one of the special rights assigned only to Sabah and Sarawak in 1963 was on managing its own tariff and finance where both states are provided with special sources of revenues.
“But one interesting fact is that the petroleum found within the shores of Sabah no longer belongs to the state. It remains there but the resources would go to Petronas and in return under the Act, Sabah gets five percent royalty,” Vanugopal said.
Land matters are Sabah’s right
He added that all land matters “including those under the sea”, fall under Sabah’s jurisdiction.
“Land is a state matter, meaning that only the State Legislative Assembly may decide on it. So what is the validity of such a federal Act (enacted in Parliament)?
“Can a matter concerning land in Sabah be dealt with in Parliament? If the answer is no, then this Act is invalid,” he said.
Mahathir in his paper also touched on the “independent-minded” Sabah. He said that in 1965, there were rumours that Sabah and Sarawak might join Singapore to leave the Federation of Malaysia and create a new country.
He said he came to Sabah with then Deputy Prime Minister, Razak Hussein, who met Sabah leaders and eventually managed to convince them to remain in Malaysia.
Mahathir’s disclosure of what transpired when Singapore was booted out of a federation and the shredding of the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 throws up the question of whether Sabah, Sarawak or even Malaya, for that matter, could sever ties with each other.
Jeffrey, who now heads the United Borneo Front (UBF) and the Sabah chapter of the State Reform Party (STAR), both dedicated to reinstating Sabah and Sarawak’s rights within the federation, once questioned if the Malaysia Agreement is still valid with the 1965 departure of Singapore.
Meanwhile, Mahathir’s advice to Sabahans to take up cycling to reduce pollution, also went down the wrong way, with many questioning the wholesale importation of peninsular Malaysia-registered second-hand cars into the state in the 1990s.
Jeffrey said that it was well known that Sabahans were too poor to cause serious pollution to the state whereas major industries that had moved to the state were the biggest polluters.
“If you are serious, please help build us better roads and please asphalt our kampung roads so that our vehicles’ engines last longer and so emit less smoke and pollution into the environment or build efficient public transport in Sabah towns; don’t just ask us to cycle to offices,” he said.
Mahathir made his remarks about people taking up cycling as a healthy lifestyle when he graced the Tour of Borneo here just before he went to deliver his lecture in UMS.