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Yong: I am not the villain

Former Sabah chief minister Yong Teck Lee, who has been under 'assault' by the Barisan Nasional, claims he is a 'victim of circumstances'.

KOTA KINABALU: The villain of the month in Sabah is Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) leader, Yong Teck Lee, if news reports are anything to go by.

A spate of exposé of possible land grabs by companies and a court ruling against a developer have all conspired to demonise the former chief minister.

But he says he is a victim of circumstances though the issues being aired now happened during his watch from 1996 to 1998.

Natives in north-east Sabah are up in arms over the takeover of 65,000 acres of land stretching from Beluran to Pitas and Kota Marudu, which they said occurred in 1996 when Yong was in power.

The discontent was so great that Sabah Biro Tata Negara (BTN) director Ibrahim Saad was forced to visit the affected areas to hear the plight of the villagers who are living under the threat of being displaced due to the “takeover” of their land.

Ask many in Kota Marudu, Pitas and elsewhere, and they will point to Yong as the culprit for their woes, in the same way he handled several other hot-button issues such as the failed Saham Amanah Sabah (SAS) and the controversial Forest Management Units (FMU).

Yong has tried to refute the allegations by giving dates to show he was not directly involved in any of the “bad” decisions.

“My biggest mistake was I used to ignore such rumours and now they are deemed to be factual.

“Too much damage is done on an innocent party while Umno, the guilty party, got away scot-free again,” he texted FMT yesterday.

“(The approval given to) Begaraya Sdn Bhd (to take over the land) was signed on March 19, 1996, but I became chief minister only on May 28, 1996.

“By the time the approval letter reached the district (Kota Marudu), the chief minister had changed to me,” he said.

Slapping blame on Yong

Yong reiterated that it was his predecessor Salleh Said (the current State Legislative Assembly Speaker) who gave the approval to Begaraya.

“The outgoing chief minister then was in a hurry, like (former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi signing away Blocks L and M (oil fields to Brunei).

“I know people believed the rumour because we have failed to bring the truth to the people.

“… We have a lot of work (explanation to the people) to do now,” Yong said.

He also said even the land deal for the Tanjung Aru government quarters near here was signed on May 25, 1996, three days before he became chief minister but still his name was linked to its approval.

Among those targeting Yong are his one-time comrades in Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) who have criticised him for a host of Sabah’s problems ranging from illegal immigrants and phantom voters to fake ICs.

“But it is not SAPP’s priority to get bogged down in the record of past leaders,” Yong said.

“Instead, we have been focusing on Sabah autonomy, the 1963 Malaysia Agreement, the party’s eight-point declaration, piping natural gas to Bintulu, fighting the coal-powered plant project, resisting the Kaiduan and Tambotoun dams proposal, land crisis, youth unemployment, illegal immigrants and a host of current issues.

“The sum total of all the rumours is that I have signed off a few million acres of timber land for 100 years to cronies, all within three weeks of becoming chief minister.

“This means that I was able to design the sustainable forest management plans, prepare the agreements and sign them – all behind the back of state ministers in less than a month.

“Of course, this is not true,” he said.

Reveal content of agreements

Yong said there was nothing to stop the current government from disclosing the contents of the sustainable forest management licence agreements.

“The agreements will reveal that the rights and privileges of the natives under the existing laws and regulations, including customary law, are not affected or limited in any respect under these agreements.

“There is no legal basis for the authorities to evict natives from their traditional villages within forest reserves, something that is troubling state leaders.

“After the 1999 state election, when I was no longer the chief minister, I had proposed to the State Legislative Assembly to form an All-Party Select Committee on Forestry Policy to review the management of our forest resources.

“But my proposal was never taken up.

“Instead, the government proceeded with logging in the Benta Wawasan areas of Yayasan Sabah,” he said.

Ongkili, another ‘villain’

But Yong is not viewed as the sole villain.

Bearing the brunt of criticism from the natives is Kota Marudu MP, Maximus Ongkili, who is a PBS deputy president.

They see him as weak and unable to solve the issues though he had promised to do so during the 2008 general election.

Ongkili’s ally, Tandek assemblywoman Anita Baranting, also fears a backlash from disgruntled supporters.

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