JOHOR BARU: Johor rulers have always been strict when giving out state awards. Each year only a few people are awarded Datukships in the state.
Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar has kept to the tradition since ascending the throne more than four years ago.
And he has even revoked the Datukships of at least six people in that time.
He also revoked Justice of Peace (JP) titles in 2011, saying that it was no longer relevant because there were enough magistrates in the state.
Between 1948 and 1980, some 55 JP titles were given out in Johor, with none awarded after that.
Sultan Ibrahim has always taken a keen interest in personally vetting all the award recipients, together with the Tunku Mahkota of Johor and the Johor Royal Court.
In this second and final part of an exclusive interview with him, he speaks frankly about this and other matters.
Q: Tuanku, Johor is known for its reluctance to give awards. What is your response to talk by Malaysians that there are far too many Datuks in Malaysia?
A: I can tell you this. I am aware the people are saying that if you throw a stone, you will hit a Datuk but I can add this — if you throw a stone now, it will hit a Datuk; it will then rebound and hit another Datuk. That is the situation now and we cannot deny this talk. We must feel the pulse of the people.
I do not want to talk about other states. People talk about buying awards.
I do not want to go into that but I can tell you that in Johor we do not confer awards easily.
If too many of such awards are conferred, they lose their value. People will no longer respect you; people will ask which state did you get the awards from and the institution will suffer in the long run.
We do not want Malaysia to be a country with the most titled people. For sure, it will not happen in Johor as long as I am around.
Q: There are accusations that Tuanku plans to open a casino in the state. Please comment.
A: I know that there is a lot of talk and speculation that Tan Sri Vincent Tan and I plan to team up to open a casino, after I bought Berjaya shares simply because he has a licence (for Sports Toto).
I can assure my subjects that as long as I am around, there will be no casino in Johor. In Johor, we do not encourage the issuance of any gambling licences and if possible I want all the illegal ones to be cleaned up by the police.
On environmental issues
Q: You have expressed concern about the environment many times. Could you elaborate?
A: It is pointless to be a developed state if our environment is all polluted as it will not be a conducive place for the rakyat to live in.
That is why I directed the state government and relevant authorities to ensure that there are no illegal logging activities in the state.
I fully support the state’s decision to freeze any logging activities statewide beginning this year, while existing ones will continue until their contracts expire. Then there will be no more.
I also want the state government to increase the number of green lungs in Johor, as well as maintain existing forest areas, as an effort to preserve the environment.
That is why in the Forest City project, great emphasis will be placed on the environment and greenery. Transportation on the island will be free as there will be a monorail everywhere.
Meanwhile, cars will travel and park underground.
I want to see green and trees everywhere in the midst of this massive development.
On state development
Q: Johor is seeing a large number of unplanned developments that were not in the Iskandar Master Plan. Considering this, would you like to see a freeze on property development approvals in the state?
A: It is for the Mentri Besar to decide but as the Sultan, I wish to see balanced development. I do not want to see Johor Baru filled with buildings only. The people must benefit from any form of development. There must be spillover effects with the ordinary people being able to open up businesses to serve the people who have bought homes here.
Ordinary Johoreans must see the spillover effects, as I want the people to benefit from all these changes.
I am also aware of the grumblings on the ground that homes are becoming too expensive, especially for the poor.
I hope that the Government will speed up the building of the 28,000 affordable homes in the state, especially for first-time buyers.
Q: There are some who say that Tuanku has used his power to acquire state land. What have you to say about that?
A: I can quote you the amount of land that has been acquired by the state from me, instead of the other way around. In Pengerang, the state acquired my land. In some cases, it has ended with me paying the state because they could not afford to pay me after acquiring the land.
When the Government built the new Johor Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex and had to tear down the Bukit Chagar and Lumba Kuda flats, I gave my land in Bakar Batu as an alternative site for all those people.
Even now my estate in Paloh has been reduced in size as the state government needed it to build the Kahang dam to channel water to the people of Kluang.
There is misconception, as I do not need to take government land. I never ask for anything for free as I am willing to pay for it, above market price and in cash.
On ties with mentris besar
Q: Speaking about the MB, there are perceptions that you have more clout than the MB. What is your response?
A: You chose the word “perceptions”. I cannot control what some people want to say. I cannot tell the MB what to do.
He is the head of the state government. He is elected and enjoys the majority of the House. I am the Sultan and I understand my role very well. Whatever our positions, we share the same goal – to see Johor prosper. I have a good relationship with him. It helps, perhaps because we were schoolmates. We have a good working relationship.
Q: Did your Royal Highness have a problem with the previous mentri besar, Tan Sri Ghani Othman?
A: I do not want to talk about the past. It’s over.