- Published on Thursday, 17 January 2013 20:46
The former prime minister acknowledged that the government under his watch had granted citizenship to foreign nationals that fulfilled the stipulated conditions. SHAH ALAM: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (pic) today defended the granting of citizenship to foreigners in Sabah as a "lawful" act but denied knowledge of any political considerations involved.
"I never denied that citizenship was given. What I deny is that I did something against the law," Mahathir told reporters after delivering a public talk, on the future of Malays after the upcoming general election, organised by the Malay daily Sinar Harian.
Mahathir had been accused of sanctioning the exercise dubbed "Project IC" or "Project M" where citizenships were given to immigrants in exchange for their votes.
Today, Mahathir faced a barrage of questions from reporters on witness testimony arising from the ongoing royal commission of inquiry in Kota Kinabalu to investigate the issue of undocumented immigrants in Sabah being granted citizenship.
Yesterday, a former senior officer at the National Registration Department (NRD), testifying before the commission, made startling allegations on how undocumented immigrants in Sabah were roped in to vote in the 1994 state election.
Former Sabah NRD director Ramli Kamarudin alleged had that the then deputy minister of home affairs, the late Tan Sri Megat Junid Megat Ayub, had ordered him to issue foreigners with NRD receipts which matched the details of registered voters.
Ramli alleged that these foreign nationals were then given RM20 and taught how to vote, in an exercise that involved up to six state constituencies that were deemed challenging for the ruling party to retain.
However, Mahathir said he did not know if Megat Junid's instruction was "coincidental or deliberate" to influence the Sabah state elections.
Mahathir, who helmed the country from 1981 to 2003, maintained that citizenship granted before elections does not necessarily mean it was against the law.
The former prime minister also reminded that many foreigners in Sabah were not new immigrants and have assimilated, having settled in the state for decades.
"Many in Sabah have been there for over 20 to 30 years. They speak Malay. They have the right to be citizens. The problem is some people don't like them to be citizens.
"Why do we reject them? They work. If they commit crime, they are subject to the law. They are needed by Sabah," he said.
"Once the foreigners are citizens, they are free to vote," he said, adding that they knew for a fact that not all vote BN.
Mahathir pointed out that Malaysia's first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, had also dished out citizenship to many unqualified persons when the latter was in power.
"One should look back and remeber that Tunku Abdul Rahman was worse than me. He gave one million citizenship to people who were not qualified and not even tested.
"So why is it when he does it, it is not wrong but when I do it, it is wrong? I did what was within the law," Mahathir said.
The royal commission earlier also heard that foreigners made up over 27% or 889,000 people of Sabah's 3.2 million population.
This was based on census data which log whether a person is a Malaysian citizen but does not record details on whether they were documented or undocumented.
When asked, Mahathir said the royal commission of inquiry had not subpoenaed him as a witness and that he will attend the proceedings if subpoenaed.
Mahathir had in early 2008 appeared as a witness in the royal commission of inquiry to investigate allegations that judicial promotions had been fixed by a senior lawyer.