COMMENT Former Sabah Chief Minister Harris Salleh did not mention then Sabah Foundation Director, Jeffrey Kitingan, when he pontificated sanctimoniously on the so-called missing RM 4 billion, among other issues, in a tirade against former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in recent days.
Harris was apparently taking offence at Mahathir’s statement in Kota Kinabalu, at Universiti Malaysia Sabah last week that “Sabah would be the richest state soon in Malaysia in terms of natural resources”.
However, everyone in town knows that Harris was referring to Mahathir’s infamous statement that RM 4 billion was “missing” from Sabah Foundation during Jeffrey’s time. Incidentally, it was Harris himself who appointed Jeffrey as Sabah Foundation director. He continued to hold the post when his elder brother, Joseph Pairin Kitingan, became Chief Minister.
Jeffrey has clarified every time the issue surfaced that the RM 4 billion allegedly missing was the difference between the spot price for timber and the long-term contract price. One cannot sign long-term contracts at spot prices. The Price Water House Audit Report on Sabah Foundation, commissioned by Mahathir, makes no mention that RM 4 billion was missing.
Undeterred, what Mahathir did was to take out his little calculator, note the difference between the spot price and contract price, multiply by the tonnage over a period of time and came up with the political statement on the so-called missing RM 4 billion.
So, Harris was right when he alleged on Sat that Mahathir may have been making a political statement on the RM 4 billion “just to pacify and satisfy himself”, no doubt after the audit report failed to uncover any evidence of malpractices or mismanagement. Nothing ever came out of the audit report.
Jeffrey in a text message to FMT, extrapolating from the RM 4 billion, added that he was the most probed individual during Mahathir’s time. “All the government agencies, Inland Revenue Department, Anti Corruption Agency, Special Branch, were mobilized”. Apparently, the probes came up empty judging by the fact that nothing ever happened after that to Jeffrey, although his text message doesn’t make that clear.
The talk in Sabah — “where there are no secrets” — is whatever happened to Jeffrey “stupendous wealth” even without factoring in the RM 4 billion.
There’s not even one Sabahan, dead or alive, who does not believe that Mahathir took away Jeffrey’s money, all reportedly salted away in locations overseas in numbered accounts, after detaining him under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) for various other reasons.
Likewise, it would be difficult to convince Sabahans that Jeffrey never had all the money attributed to him discounting the RM 4 billion, and now nowhere in evidence.
It’s an open secret that Jeffrey was engaged in various businesses as an investor and directly, but under a wide network of nominees, even while he was Sabah Foundation director.
Many of these nominees reportedly made off with sizeable portions of his money while he was under ISA detention. But none probably ripped him off to the extent that Mahathir did since it was within his (Mahathir’s) means to do so. This might partly explain a list circulating on the internet, detailing various accounts that the Mahathir family is allegedly maintaining in Israel.
On the nominees themselves, Jeffrey does not seem to harbour any rancor against them, and many of these same people are still in business for themselves especially with the Sabah Foundation.
It would not be surprising if these people are financing Jeffrey’s politics. He can call in many favours. His State Reform Party (Star) certainly does not seem to be short of funds judging from their campaigns underway in Sabah, Sarawak and even in Peninsular Malaysia among voters from the two states. It’s the size of the war chest that seems to attract many willing to chip in and work for the party. Star leaders claim that most of the party’s funds come from contributions from ordinary people.
Sabahans, putting two and two together, see a definite link between Jeffrey’s great wealth vanishing almost overnight and his detention under the ISA for two-year terms renewed twice.
Sabah, all Sabahans fume like Harris, has long been a rich state in terms of natural resources but continues to be the poorest state in the country as reported by the World Bank in Kota Kinabalu at the end of 2010.
There are parallels between the descent of Jeffrey and Sabah into poverty, one complete, another continuing.
Again, the difference is that the former has no longer any wealth which one can milk while the latter, his country, continues to bleed to death as Putrajaya and companies in Peninsular Malaysia prey on it like “parasites, leeches and bloodsuckers”, for want of better terms.
Harris himself in his Sat statement deplored the fact that Peninsular Malaysian-owned gambling companies operating in Sabah siphon away billions every year. In the process, their unfortunate victims are forced into the clutches and claws of Ah Long, loan sharks, outsiders who have followed these gaming companies to Sabah. These loan sharks are linked to triads and seem to have forged a cosy relationship with local police to bring defaulters to heel.
If these gaming companies were locally-owned, at least the money would remain in the state and circulate within the economy.
The Peninsular Malaysian-owned plantation companies operating in Sabah, including Felda with some 350, 000 hectares, are likewise siphoning away billions every year from the state. Many of them have somehow got their hands on vast hectares of Native land under one pretext or another judging from cases which have so far surfaced in Court.
Federal Government and Petronas procurements and contracts in Sabah also go to Peninsular Malaysian-owned companies.
Then, of course, there are the age-old grievances against Petronas and the Federal Government taking 95 per cent of the oil revenue from the inner waters, 100 per cent of such revenue from the outer waters, the Badawi Government giving away Oil Blocks L and M to Brunei and keeping new discoveries in Sabah and total discovered gas and oil reserves in the state so far a highly-guarded state secret.
Jeffrey has also pointed out that of this year’s National Budget of nearly RM 200 billion, Sabah and Sarawak were allocated — not the same as releasing funds — a measly RM 4 billion each.
At the same time, according to Jeffrey on You Tube, the Federal Government collected nearly RM 40 billion last year in income tax, customs duties and other revenue alone — excluding oil and gas — from Sabah.
Hence, the war cry among Sabahans that they have been internally colonised on the revenue front besides in other areas.