FAST on the heels of opposing comments by the Sultan of Johor and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad last week, the former graced us with an interview at his home in Istana Pasir Pelangi late on Saturday afternoon.
In the one-hour interview, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar spoke frankly on various subjects, including one that touched a raw nerve: Dr Mahathir’s public disapproval of the Bangsa Johor concept, which has long been cherished by Johor folk.
The sultan also touched on plans to set up the Bank of Johor, his initiatives to set up the Rumah Johor public housing scheme with zero profit, and the development of Maglev bullet trains, linking Pasir Gudang and Iskandar Puteri.
The following is the full interview.
Q: How did the concept of Bangsa Johor come about?
A: The concept of Bangsa Johor came about in 1920, when my great-grandfather, Sultan Sir Ibrahim, felt the need to give thanks and unite the various races who had come together to open up Johor.
The Chinese, Indians and Javanese had all been invited to join the Malays, in the 1800s, by his father, Sultan Sir Abu Bakar, and his grandfather, Temenggung Daeng Ibrahim, to seek their fortunes in Johor. They worked hard to clear the land and build Johor from when it was just a jungle with a very small population.
More than ever, the concept of Bangsa Johor is relevant today, especially looking at the issues of racial polarisation that keep coming up.
Bangsa Johor means everybody is responsible for developing Johor while respecting everyone else’s culture and religion because we want everybody to live in peace and prosperity. Concord is a blessing.
Other states can look to Johor as an example of how to foster racial unity. Because our intention is noble, so many have come to express their desire to live in and be part of Johor.
Q: Doesn’t it make Johor look parochial?
A: No. While I am proud to say I am Bangsa Johor, I am still Malaysian. When I am overseas, if anyone asks me where I am from, I proudly say, “Malaysia”.
I don’t say I am Bangsa Johor because some may not know that Johor is part of Malaysia.
We don’t have any bad motive or hidden agenda. Our intention is still for the greater good of Malaysia.
If I am given the opportunity to unite Malaysians, I will do it. I will go around the country because I know how to do it.
Q: Why does Johor need an identifier?
A: Every state is unique in her special way. Each has her own history, culture and even food. And, Johor has her own long list of customs and traditions to boast of, like laksa Johor, baju Melayu Teluk Belanga, zapin and ghazal.
I think every state should come up with their own identifiers. We should celebrate our differences. That is what makes Malaysia so special.
Q: Why did you come out so hard against Dr Mahathir?
A: Anyone who does not know the history or background of a subject should not speak with authority (on the matter).
As I mentioned earlier, Bangsa Johor is not a new creation, and its objective has always been to unite, not divide. The idea has been proven to work, again and again.
Q: If the concept is not new, how do we translate it for the Johor of today?
A: The spirit of Bangsa Johor is not just a saying. You have to care for Johor. And, to care for Johor means to be personally responsible in developing Johor. If you look at all the projects that I am personally involved in, they are all with the people of Johor in mind.
For example, affordable homes today are not really affordable for the people. So, we came up with the Rumah Johor housing scheme. That is one project under the Sultan Ibrahim Foundation, which will be run by Datuk Syed Mohamed Syed Ibrahim. The foundation will be a zero-profit organisation.
We already have the support of banks. This will ensure the people get the best housing at the cheapest price.
To make them cheap and affordable, the houses must have a few designs that are pre-cast. With pre-cast houses, they can be ready in one month. But, they must last 100 years. And, they must look nice.
Be more patient, rakyat Johor. I want my projects to be well planned and thought out, and these projects will be rolled out soon, very soon.
Q: What sort of prices are you looking at? Will it be landed property?
A: I will make sure that these homes are the cheapest, with the best quality, and can be (built) with zero profit. Where able, I will ask consultants, suppliers and contractors to do it with the least profit possible. I am a very good negotiator, you know.
For a comfortably sized home with three bedrooms in a mixed development, my target is below RM100,000.
Coupled with a financing scheme that will provide 100 per cent end financing to first-time and qualified house buyers, this will make owning a home within the reach of those who really need it.
I will personally ensure that the units are fairly distributed to those who are really in need.
Q: How is progress in the Bank of Johor project? Is it linked to the Rumah Johor housing scheme?
A: Yes, it is. We plan for the Bank of Johor to be a commercial bank modelled after the cooperative bank, Bank Rakyat. The bank will focus on providing loans to those in the low-income group.
We have a team of foreign and local banking consultants from Bank Negara Malaysia advising us right now.
The bank will be run professionally by the best talent, regardless of race, religion or creed, and based on meritocracy. Results are what matter to me.
Both these projects are my way of making sure that none of my subjects is left out of progress and development. These projects are aimed at my subjects who the markets have left out.
I have used my financial strength and the expertise of those drawn to Johor for the benefit of my subjects.
Q: Is the Maglev train project on track?
A: Again, whenever investors, local and foreign, come to invest in Johor, I immediately think of how I can direct them to projects that benefit Johor and assist my subjects. A company is studying the possibility of Johor setting up the Maglev project for the state.
It has nothing to do with the High-Speed Rail. It will link Johor Baru, Pasir Gudang, Kempas, Iskandar Puteri and other areas.
We are also looking at the Maglev entering Singapore, in view of the massive traffic jam at the Causeway every day.
Q: Is water still a big issue for Johor?
A: Yes, it is a very big issue. We are not managing our water. A few years ago, I had cautioned my government about an impending water crisis. The biggest mistake Johor ever made was to privatise Syarikat Air Johor.
Don’t blame my menteri besar; he came later. Now, me and my MB are cracking our heads to solve this problem. It is an issue that causes me sleepless nights.
The record of rainfall this year is half that of last year’s. You can ride a bicycle in the Congok Dam in Mersing.
The two dams there have dried up. There is no rain. There is even water rationing in Mersing town.
So, we had to take a bit of water that was meant for Singapore. We don’t have to look further than Singapore to learn how to manage water. Don’t be shy! Why must we look to faraway countries to learn? It would be a waste of government money. We must have recycled water for industrial use.
There are industries in Pasir Gudang that consume a lot of water, amounting to nearly RM4 million of water a month. They get water, but the housing estate next door has no water! How do the people feel (about this)?
You can’t simply transfer water from one river to another. While we want development, we must take care of nature to ensure that future generations are not affected.
In this respect, I have asked companies, which have the capability, to work with the state, to come up with solutions to overcome the water issues affecting Johor immediately!
There are instances where we have taken industries that Singapore had rejected.
My advice to the authorities is to be selective and choose industries properly, and not make life difficult for the people.
I want the authorities to choose industries that are green and safe. I want them to make sure that another Bhopal does not occur in Johor.
This is where I always say, whatever decisions you make in Kuala Lumpur, please understand the Johor sentiment. It’s very important to understand the Johor sentiment.
When you make deals with Singapore and don’t refer to us when we share the same geography and resources, our people are affected.
Q: Will the new political party by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin further split the Malays?
A: I am above politics. I don’t get myself involved in politics. I am here to unite ALL Bangsa Johor. Not otherwise. That is all I have to say.