KOTA KINABALU, Nov 10 — Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said today he was not aware of the law that prohibits the possession and consumption of turtle eggs in Sabah, after a photograph of him being served the eggs at a dinner function in Sandakan surfaced on social media.
The Rural and Regional Development Minister stressed, however, that he was merely a guest at the event and had not been involved in preparing the menu for the night, apart from having no knowledge of the prohibition.
“Honestly, I didn’t know that there were laws against it. But to me, that is not the issue. The issue is whether it was consumed or not,” said Ismail Sabri when speaking to reporters after a meeting with the west coast village development chiefs here.
Last week, a photograph emerged on social media showing Ismail Sabri as well as 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, believed taken during the Umno Beluran division meeting dinner in August at Restoran Indah Keranamu, was first posted by Internet user “Deadturtles Sabah” on the Walai Penyu Resort Libaran Facebook page.
Ismail Sabri, who had previously defended himself saying he did not consume the eggs due to his high cholesterol, said today it was wrong to say he had consumed the eggs just because they were on the table.
“As a guest, we are not involved in ordering food. If it was an a la carte event, I would have ordered my own food, but in this event, it was pre-ordered.
“I didn't do any ordering. It was there. You cannot blame me and say I ate it just because it was on the table,” he said.
He cited an example of a Hindu going to a Malay-Muslim gathering where he said beef rendang or beef curry would most likely be served.
“You cannot say blame them and say that the Hindus at the gathering had beef. Or else all Hindus in Malaysia would’ve consumed beef against their religion. It is about the choice we make,” he said.
When asked why he did not reject the eggs at the event when he saw it, Ismail Sabri said that the important thing was that the choice was made not to consume it.
“To me, the important thing is the decisions we make, whether or not to consume it,” said Ismail Sabri.
On the possibility of action being taken on the organisers of the event as well as the restaurant, Ismail Sabri said it was up to the state’s laws.
After the photo surfaced, Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director William Baya the department will be investigating and 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.
Turtles and its products are a totally protected species under Sabah’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment 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.