Push for peace and progress
By LOURDES CHARLES and NELSON BENJAMINnewsdesk@thestar.com.my
Just 40 days after being proclaimed as the Johor Ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar speaks to Sunday Star on how Johor should move forward and regain its glory days.
Within 40 days of your proclamation, you have already initiated changes in the state. Can you tell us about your vision for the state?
My vision is for Johor to be trouble free. It is not going to be easy, but I will try my best. It is not easy to please about 1.8 million people.
I also want politicians and the Johor civil service to buck up and serve the people. If they cannot deliver, then they will have to be booted out. My government is not a Santa Claus government and I want results not just from the grassroots levels, but all the way to the top of the administration.
This is a new millennium. A new era and as the new Sultan, I expect a lot of changes.
I have also directed all state government agencies to give detailed briefing on matters pertaining to the administration and finance of their respective department.
You seem to be politically in tune with the things happening in the country. How do you view the latest political developments?
Politicians must serve the people genuinely as they are already getting paid. They have to look after the people.
I am fair to everyone; I tell the present government to shape up and buck up. If you want to be a politician, be a good one without having personal gains. As politicians, they should not instigate people or cause people to break up or fight.
Why can’t we all live in harmony? If we all work together, this will be a trouble-free government.
The country needs to move forward and you cannot have all sorts of obstacles for the government to function. When the government succeeds, then the benefits will reach the people.
You are known to be a successful businessman with some people even describing that everything you touch turns to gold. How will you balance your role as Sultan and at the same time be involved in business?
I cannot be a businessman. Anyway, I do not go to any office. Yes, I do a few things like looking after my own oil palm plantation. I have been a planter for the past 30 years. The estate is doing well with good income. We have horses to looks after, bills to pay, the motor pool to maintain, our helicopter and aeroplane to maintain.
All this is not from the government. I have had my share of bad luck as I have been conned, made some bad mistakes or even wrong deals, but I always recover. I learn through my mistakes.
People think Johor royalty is super rich, but we have enough for us. A ruler will live the life of a ruler.
Links between Johor and Singapore still seem to be a problem. Do you have a suggestion to overcome this?
We should build a bridge to replace the Causeway to boost links between both countries as between 80,000 and 120,000 people use it daily.
I am even willing to be the mediator between both countries to resolve some of the issues, especially on the bridge project, water and Singapore’s Mass Railway Transit (MRT) lines into Johor Baru.
I do not have a problem with Singapore; I think some of the issues between Johor and Singapore can be resolved over a cup of tea.
I hope in future the state would be consulted in all development projects. It must be Johor that decides with the blessing of the federal government as you must understand the Johor sentiment.
Yes, a delegation from Singapore, including Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, paid a courtesy call on me recently and whatever they propose, it must be a win-win situation.
I am also against the building of a third link into Singapore. Look at the Second Link – it used to be a white elephant project as people did not want to use it but now with the development in the area under Iskandar Malaysia, people are using it. But it is still running at 40% capacity.
We should also look into extending the MRT link from Singapore.
You have always had a soft side for the welfare of the people, especially those in the rural areas, including the Orang Asli. What are your plans for them?
I have visited some Orang Asli villages and I find them not very different from ours. They are very pampered as whatever they ask for, they get from the government, including schools, houses and even six to 12 acres of land each for plantations.
We cannot be doing this forever. I am not asking them to change their tradition but if you do not tell them that they must compete, they will forever want the government to provide them with facilities. How long can this go on? And this will involve a lot of money too.
Johor is expanding and you have to adjust your lifestyle to the changes.
We now even have an Orang Asli senator from Johor while the people from a village in Pontian are doing well in business. But we have naughty ones who are involved in poaching.
What is your stand on environmental issues such as illegal logging and water catchment areas?
The Forestry Department controls the logging in the state. You cannot simply cut logs except for the marked ones. Sometimes contractors may be a bit naughty and adjust the roads, which results in trees that are not marked to be cut.
The enforcement agencies are closely monitoring lagging areas in the state. But Jabatan Hutan Johor is always around. It is not easy to smuggle timber. Johor does not have many areas for timber left.
Yes, I was a logger at one time, a legal one I must stress. I paid the government but I have since stopped. Timber in Johor will only be around for a few more years.
As far as water is concerned, I am not happy with the management of our raw water resources as it can be improved. We need to educate the people first. Do not waste water; in Johor, this is a sensitive issue.
On development, how do you view the Iskandar Malaysia corridor?
To me, the project is moving on the right track and will be good for the state. We need to give them more time as it has only been a few years but they are on the right track, especially in improving the infrastructure which will lead to more investments coming into the state.
But I hope the agencies concerned will be careful in choosing the industries for Johor. I also hope developers do not focus too much on building houses alone as this will create a glut.
I also hope that more chances are given to Johor-based contractors, companies or government-linked agencies to participate in development projects.
What about participation of the locals in the project?
I want more opportunities to be given to Johor-based contractors, companies or government-linked agencies to participate in development projects in the state. I want to see Johoreans coming up.
I am not pleased when there is parachuting of someone from another state getting the big projects. Give Johoreans a chance. The new Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex (CIQ) in Johor Baru was built by Johoreans.
Are you satisfied with the level of policing in the state?
To me, the police are doing a good job. You cannot expect them to have an eye on every shop or everywhere in Johor.
I have been working closely with (Deputy Comm) Datuk Mohd Mokhtar (Mohd Shariff), the state police chief, who knows what he is doing. They are in the midst of installing security cameras everywhere.
Do not look down on Johor Baru whenever a crime is committed as such things happen everywhere. Our police have got the best intelligence network.
I salute the men in blue. Of course, there is always room for improvement.