KOTA KINABALU, Dec 3 — The Sabah Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) has found reason to believe that the controversial “Projek IC” citizenship-for-votes initiative may have existed, based on testimonies from several witnesses during its hearing last year.
According to the report released today, the royal panel said five witnesses had spoken on the initiative, leading it to conclude that there is a “probability” that the project was real.
“Based on the testimonies of five witnesses, the commission concludes that there is a probability that ‘Projek IC’ existed,” the panel said, according to slides shown to the media at the report’s release in Tabung Haji Hotel here.
The panel stressed, however, that the five witnesses were not subjected to any cross-examination during the hearing.
The panel also said that the five were former staff members of the Sabah National Registration Department (NRD) who were once detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for their alleged involvement in the illegal award of identification cards and other documents.
“Projek IC” is said to be responsible for the abnormal spike in Sabah’s population, where foreigners comprise nearly 30 per cent of the state’s 3.12 million-strong populace.
Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was in power from 1981 to 2003, has been repeatedly named as the man who spurred the initiative.
During the RCI hearing last year, Dr Mahathir testified that he had never heard “until recently” of “Projek IC”, an initiative that purportedly awarded citizenship to illegal immigrants in Sabah in exchange for their votes in elections.
The country’s longest-serving prime minister also blamed “government officers” for the illegal awarding of identity cards (ICs) to foreigners, appearing to absolve himself from all blame over the controversial project that reportedly occurred from the 1980s onwards.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders said in response that Dr Mahathir’s testimony was likely packed with lies, noting that several witnesses at the RCI had testified to the existence of “Projek IC” or “Projek M”.
DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang said it was “inconceivable” for Dr Mahathir to claim ignorance of “Projek IC” and to blame low-ranking civil servants instead.
But Dr Mahathir, in a function last September, then asked why, if such a project had indeed existed during his rule, his “deputy” had not stopped it.
Without directly naming Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Dr Mahathir said that the current “Pakatan leader” should have known about the purported Sabah initiative as he would have been familiar with government policy then.
“If that is government policy, why didn’t he stop it?” Dr Mahathir told reporters.
“Is he going to lie to the commission that I told him to do all these things? He should know; he was my deputy,” he added, referring to the RCI.
When asked if he was talking about Anwar, Dr Mahathir only said “Maybe”.
Dr Mahathir also said that the “Pakatan leader” should know “very well what I said and what I did”.
During the RCI’s proceedings, which started in January last year, testimonies from Filipinos and other immigrants revealed how they received their blue identification cards or the MyKad — which is proof of citizenship — in just a few years after arriving in Sabah and how they had also voted in elections.
The Commission headed by Tan Sri Steve Shim Lip Kiong, who is also former Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, was set up on September 21, 2012.
It had called 211 witnesses including former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim before closing the case on September 20 last year.
The commission’s long-awaited report was finally released today in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, six months after the royal panel presented its findings to the prime minister and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in May. It is unclear what had caused the delay.