The government today disclosed that the issues on the sale of sand and use of air space were first
raised by Singapore and not
Malaysia as claimed
by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir
Mohamed. "Both these issues were raised as political quid pro quo
based on the principles of equitable interests to enable Singapore to agree with the proposal to build a bridge to replace the Johor Causeway," said Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar.
The minister disclosed this in his written reply at the Dewan Rakyat sitting, here. Syed Hamid said the air space issue was actually not
new and had been discussed long ago in the context of bilateral talks in packages from 1998 until 2002. "Tun (Dr Mahathir) himself
had included the issue as a trade-off
during the discussions which were held in packages between the two countries," he said.
On the use of Malaysia's air space, Syed Hamid said Singapore's Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, in his meeting with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to discuss outstanding issues in Putrajaya, had again requested that Malaysia allowed
the Singapore Air Force to use Malaysia's air space.
"At the same meeting, Goh had raised the sand
issue for the first
time and asked that Malaysia again allowed the sale of sand to Singapore," Syed Hamid said. However, during the Senior Officers' meetings between Malaysia and Singapore held between September 2005 and March this year, he said only two
of the five special privileges sought by Singapore had been considered after obtaining approval from the Defence Ministry, namely the right to Search and Rescue and the Northern Transit Corridor.
Syed Hamid said the right to Search and Rescue was offered as a trade-off
which was in line
with international practices while the right to the Northern Transit Corridor was only for the purpose of transiting to the South China Sea whereby the Singapore Air Force's aircraft would not circle over Malaysian air space.
On the sand issue, he said the government considered the request by Singapore after taking into account that Malaysia had actually sold sand to Singapore way back during Dr Mahathir's administration
. "Sand is in fact still being sold by Malaysia currently, that is, silica sand. However, compared
to the sale of sand carried out during
Dr Mahathir's administration, Malaysia had submitted more
stringent conditions on the sale of sand," he said. The conditions were pertaining to the quality of sand, location, royalty payment, issuing of licence, federal and state governments' procedures, regulations on sand extraction, the relevant terms and conditions and effective enforcement to protect national interests.
However, Syed Hamid said the government had decided not
to proceed with the bridge construction after taking into account the people's sentiments and sensitivities, and as such, Malaysia need no longer
consider the granting of air space to Singapore and both these issues should not be raised again.
As directed by the Prime Minister, Syed Hamid said his ministry would come up with a more detailed explanation on the issues raised by Dr Mahathir on the bridge, sand and air space.
**** So the challenge has been taken up and Dr Mahathir had better beware if many of the errors of his administration will come out of the closet. It is one thing to openly confront the government of the day on any number of issues but totally another when similar if not more serious ones have been committed during the time of the accuser. Challenging and finding fault is the easy part. To counter and defend his own dismal record is probably the real difficulty. The type of dangerous game that he is playing may have its own rewards for him or it may unexpectedly backfire as gambits like this often do.
In the meanwhile an apprehensive public watches and waits nervously as the two parties prepare to square-off.