KOTA KINABALU: As the twin-engined turboprop GAF Nomad aircraft spiralled down from Kota Kinabalu’s skies on June 6, 1976, Marcel Leiking’s heart stopped fearing the worst for the 11 people on board the aircraft.
Around him at the tarmac of the Kota Kinabalu airport, some state leaders who were on hand to welcome home the plane’s passengers – members of the Sabah government – dropped to the ground and began crying at the sight of the ill-fated aircraft.
The eleven people on board included Sabah chief minister Fuad Stephens, state ministers Salleh Sulong, Chong Thien Vun and Peter Mojuntin, the man Marcel regarded as his “brother”, the man he had known since he was 17.
“We were brothers, I lost my brother that day,” said Marcel, 71, of Mojuntin as he spoke of the “Double Six” tragedy, which took place 41 years ago to the day.
Stephens, along with his state cabinet members were returning from Labuan after negotiations on Sabah’s oil. They had reportedly refused to agree to give up the state’s oil rights in exchange for a 5% royalty.
To this day, details of the “Double Six” tragedy remain shrouded in mystery, with the findings of investigations carried out by Malaysian and Australian authorities remaining classified by the government.
Over the years, politicians, NGOs and even family members of those on board have called on the government to declassify the findings of the crash investigations but to no avail.
In an interview with FMT, Marcel, who was then Mojuntin’s political secretary, said the crash not only took the lives of those on board, but robbed the state of “great leaders”.
Leaders like Stephens and Mojuntin, who Marcel had known even before they came to power, in their United National Kadazan Organisation (Unko) days, which Stephens led.
In 1976, Stephens, Mojuntin, Salleh and Chong were part of Parti Bersatu Rakyat Jelata Sabah (Berjaya), which ruled the state.
“They were upright, straight talkers, firm, open and most importantly, honest and sincere.”
Marcel said Stephens and Mojuntin were people who were moulded by their difficult lives, with Stephens suffering from leprosy in his earlier years, while Mojuntin came from a family that wasn’t well off.
“But they worked hard. In those days, we had to walk hours just to go to school so we knew the problems and the aspirations of the people first hand,” he said, adding this included the emphasis on education for all Sabahans, who were then part of a young nation.
Marcel – who would go on to become the Inanam assemblyman and a state assistant minister – said the beauty of Stephens, one of Sabah’s founding fathers, and Mojuntin, was that power never got to their heads nor changed the type of men they were.
Often, he said, Mojuntin, who was state minister of municipal administration, would open his house to villagers who came from Sabah’s interiors to Kota Kinabalu.
“He’d open his house to them, he’d welcome them with open arms. He was never worried about security or anything like that. He really took care of the people and you can only do that if you’re an honest leader.”
But more than just leaders with big hearts, Marcel said the likes of Stephens, who was Berjaya president, and Mojuntin were matured, visionary and transparent.
Then, he said, Berjaya assemblymen had to declare their bank accounts and properties to the chief minister, while government contracts were awarded through open tenders and not direct negotiations.
“We would look at a bidder’s competency, track record, ability to deliver. The names and projects’ completion periods would also be published in the papers. We wanted to maximise the benefit of the people’s money.
“Now, it’s a different story. You don’t know how many companies one politician may own. Leaders like Stephens saw politics as a way to help people, as a responsibility. Now, people are spending money just to become division chiefs.”
Marcel added that as a leader, Stephens and his team were very systematic and methodical. In matters like town planning, Marcel said the then state government wouldn’t simply develop land for the sake of doing so and when it did develop an area, everyone would be invited to view the draft plan.
“If you look around, we have so many big and expensive homes but most Sabahans can’t afford them. There’s no point in developing so much of the land if it doesn’t benefit most of the people.”
Marcel also said that when Stephens became chief minister for the second time in 1976, he issued a circular to all state ministers, assistant ministers, political secretaries and assemblymen, warning them against interfering in the work of civil servants.
“He also said that if any villager were to write a letter to them, they had to reply immediately.”
Meanwhile, Marcel’s son Darell, reiterated his call to Putrajaya to lift the ban on a book on Mojuntin, titled “The Golden Son of the Kadazan” in respect of those who perished 40 years ago, especially Mojuntin.
The biography, authored by Bernard Sta Maria, was banned in 1978 under the Internal Security Act and despite the abolishment of the act, the book remains banned by the home ministry.
In 2015, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the book was banned in the interest of public safety as it could still threaten national interest and security.
“This is one of the things the federal government should do once and for all unless they can point out what is so dangerous,” Darell told FMT in a brief message.