Dr M: No trace of sand on declassified letters
By Andrew Ong and Kuek Ser Kuang Keng
(From Malaysiakini of July 22, 2006)
After a 22-day break, former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad has resumed his attack on the government, this time alleging that the government had not satisfactorily replied to his allegations on the sale of sand to Singapore.
He claimed that none of the declassified documents, which contained four correspondences between him and top Singapore officials, released late last week divulged new details.
“I looked at all the declassified letters [laughs], nothing in the letters said that I gave anything (to Singapore). But (Foreign Minister) Syed Hamid (Albar) apparently said that I approved (the sale of sand) ... I'd picked a foreign minister who does not know how to read letters,” said Mahathir with his usual sarcasm.
During an exclusive interview with Malaysiakini in May, Mahathir alleged that the present government offered to sell one-billion cubic metres of sand and allow the use to airspace over Johor to Singapore in return for the island state's support to build a bridge to replace the Causeway.
He argued that this would be akin to selling the sovereignty of the country to Singapore.
Syed Hamid responded by telling Parliament that the allegations were “baseless and inaccurate” and that it was Mahathir himself, who made the offer during the course of negotiations with Singapore in 1998.
Today, Mahathir was met by more than 300 noisy supporters who gathered at the Petronas depot at the Subang military airport to welcome him home after a vacation in Turkey and United Kingdom.
The fresh-looking and jovial Mahathir, who arrived in a private jet a little after 9am, was not dressed in his signature Nehru jacket, but in an open-collar maroon shirt and a grey business suit. Pinned on his jacket was a button badge, 'Peace Not War'.
But he has apparently declared war against his handpicked successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
He gave a 10-minute address to the responsive crowd, half of whom were wearing pro-Mahathir T-shirts and reporters from the sunroof on board a Mitsubishi Pajero.
“I said: 'Declassify the offer by Malaysia to sell sand and allow the use of airspace to Singapore.' There was none. Not revealed. But instead, they bring out old letters that Singapore had long published,” he said.
One of the T-shirts displayed the message: 'Mpower... Malaysia Boleh, Melayu Boleh, Mahathir Boleh!' The supporters, many of them Umno members, carried banners reading 'Mahathir save Malaysia', 'Wipe out the traitors of religion, race and the country' and 'The boys have sold out the country. Dr M, help bring back Malaysia's dignity'.
Mahathir again lamented that certain individuals within Umno had made attempts to silence him or prevent the party grassroots from approaching him.
He claimed that he was barred from speaking events while in London several days ago. The events, organised by his son Mukhriz, involved England-based Umno clubs where Mahathir was expected to explain his spate of criticisms against the government.
“They tell me not to speak to opposition parties or NGOs. But they don’t give me a chance to speak to Umno people. If you have done is right, then what's there to fear?” asked Mahathir.
Mahathir also strongly hinted that Prime Minister Abdullah, was not as liberal and receptive of criticism as him.
“During the time of Tunku Abdul Rahman, he wrote to the Star, he wrote books, he wrote all sort of things, he supported those who wanted to dethrone me, but I didn’t do anything to him,” he said, in reference to the stinging criticism received from the late Tunku soon after taking office.
Mahathir also scoffed at the suggestion that his spat with Abdullah was based on differences of opinion.
“No. This is a matter of issues. It is not a matter of me going to see him and shaking his hand and everything is over. It is a matter of issues. The issues must be tackled. Why did you (Abdullah’s administration) offer one million cubic metres of sand?”
Beseri assemblyperson Zahidi Zainal Abidin (right), who came all the way from Perlis to hear first-hand the opinions of the former premier, told reporters that the government owes the people several explanations.
Among them was the sale of ailing Italian motorcycle manufacturer MV Augusta by national carmaker Proton for a song, which is also a battle-cry taken up by Mahathir of late.
“I am no longer in the state exco. I am a businessman. Why not sell (MV Augusta) to me? RM4.50, I have the money,” he told reporters.
Other prominent figures present were former deputy minister and Pasir Mas MP Ibrahim Ali and former Mara president Ruhanie Ahmad.
Zakhir Mohamad, a 38-year-old Umno member who attended the protest, told AFP that he backed Mahathir for speaking out.
"Mahathir is not anti-Umno. His concerns are shared by many grassroot Umno members. Many are not happy with the government's policies like the sharp fuel hike," he said, referring to the government's moves to roll back subsidies.