KOTA KINABALU, Nov 5 ― Sabah leader Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun has come out to defend Umno’s Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob in the row over the latter’s turtle egg dinner in Sandakan, saying the federal minister’s hosts should take the blame.
Masidi, who is the Borneo state’s tourism, culture and environment minister, said he will wait for the state wildlife authority’s report on the incident, but feels the federal minister should not be faulted in the meantime as he was only a guest at the August function.
“We can’t blame the guest. We should pose the question to the host. I can’t blame the federal minister, he is the guest.
“The hosts are local, they should know better. They are from Sandakan, anyway,” he told reporters last night when asked to comment on the photograph of Ismail Sabri at the dinner, which has sparked outrage among local conservationists.
The photograph that was spread on social media yesterday shows Ismail Sabri, Beluran Umno division chief Datuk James Ratib and Sandakan municipal council deputy president Mohd Hamsan Awang Supain among five other men seated at a restaurant with turtle eggs and lobsters placed on the “Lazy Susan” in front of them.
The photo, allegedly taken during the Beluran Umno division meeting dinner in August at Restoran Indah Keranamu in Sandakan, was first posted by Internet user “Deadturtles Sabah” on the Walai Penyu Resort Libaran Facebook page.
It has since been reposted and shared over other Facebook pages and social media platforms.
Masidi said he does not take for granted conservation efforts by the state as well as other NGOs, and does not view the incident lightly, although it involved some known public servants.
“To me, it shows more education needs to be done. Obviously people are not taking it seriously. Or if they do, in this particular case they seem to be giving an exception in this case. There is no exception ― it applies to everyone regardless of social status,” he said.
“Everyone trying their best to conserve the environment, but when people of high standing do that, it conveys the wrong message to ordinary people. We are supposed to lead by example and in this particular case, we may have failed,” he said.
Masidi said he was waiting for a report from the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and that “they should just do their job” regardless the profiles of the people seen in the photograph.
SWD director William Baya released a statement yesterday saying his officers will be questioning the operators of the seafood restaurant as well as the event organisers to find out how turtle eggs made it on the restaurant menu.
Ismail Sabri has also responded to the matter, telling the media last night that he did not consume any of the eggs during the dinner due to his high cholesterol level.
Turtles are a totally protected species under Sabah’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 and Section 41 of enactment states it is an offence to possess these animals or its products.
Offenders can be fined RM50,000 or jailed five years, or both, upon conviction.