SINGAPORE’S alleged “bullying” of Johor Chief Minister (above, left) for illegally entering Singapore waters will now be brought up in the Malaysian Parliament in what clearly appears to be a tit-for-tat confrontation.
Johor PKR Chairman Hassan Abdul Karim, who is also Pasir Gudang Member of Parliament, expressed disappointment with Malaysian and state leaders who did not stand up to defend Datuk Osman Sapian when he was publicly reprimanded, including the issue highlighted in Singapore Parliament this week.
The 68-year-old is the first PH (Pakatan Harapan) leader who has openly backed Mr Osman after his controversial visit, adding he felt sorry that the Malaysian government allowed Singapore to “bash” Datuk Osman.
He said Malaysian leaders had instead allowed the Singapore ministers, including its Defence Minister, to ‘attack’ the Johor MB. “Singapore bullied the Johor MB and made him a scapegoat as well as a punching bag, with the leaders in Putrajaya ignoring the issue,” he said in a statement.
‘REGRETTABLE’ IN DEFENCE
“The impotence on display by the Federal and state leaders, leaving the Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) to be attacked, is regrettable. As a Malaysian Member of Parliament and as the Chairman of the state PKR, I have a right to voice this matter and demand an answer from the government.
“I will raise this issue officially in Parliament when it resumes its session in March.”
Datuk Osman, on Jan 8, had made a visit to the Marine Department’s vessel MV Pedoman. A Singapore news report said the vessel carrying Osman had encroached into Singaporean waters. Malaysia claimed otherwise that he was in Malaysian maritime territory.
Singapore subsequently sent a diplomatic note to Malaysia to protest the visit, and labeled it a “provocative act”. As a result, the scheduled 14th Meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia (JMCIM) was postponed.
Singapore Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan added that the Mr Osman’s actions “went against the spirit of the agreement” between him and his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah, when both leaders said they would resolve bilateral issues in a calm and constructive manner.
Echoing Dr Balakrishnan’s comments in Parliament, Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that Datuk Osman’s visit was “provocative and escalatory”, and raised tensions and real risks on the ground.
Dr Ng said that Singapore’s security agencies had detected early the movement of the chief minister’s entourage and had to respond promptly, but added that security personnel have been ordered to use restraint so far, so as not to escalate tensions and jeopardise the peaceful resolution of the dispute
Datuk Osman has reportedly denied trespassing in an act of provocation and defended his visit, saying he was watching Malaysia’s security teams doing their job.
He reiterated in an interview with The New Straits Times: “I do not have any intention to provoke anyone, it is my usual visit to send food supply to our civil servants who are in MV Pedoman because we have previously sent supplies such as rice, sugar and oil, every two weeks.
“There are 23 crewmen on board in that vessel, and they could not go anywhere to find supplies, so that is why I decided to go there.”
He said as Mentri Besar, he had every right to go there to offer his help, and to get a clearer picture of the territorial dispute.
“This is just my action as the head of the state government to see the work that had been done by our civil servants, and to express my gratitude to them.”
‘NO INTENTION TO INTRUDE’
He had no intention of intruding, even if Singapore feels that he had trespassed. He added: “Let me be clear, I have no intention of causing trouble, let alone to trespass.”
The Malaysian tabloid, Malay Mail, reported that Singapore had admitted in its Parliament that the authorities had sent Police Coast Guard (PCG) and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) vessels to respond to Mr Osman’s visit, even when his entourage had comprised just Malaysian civilian vessels.
For the record, Mr Osman had visited MV Pedoman which was anchored within Johor Baru’s new port limits, but Singapore is disputing the limits claim and has since expanded its own port limits to overlap Johor Baru’s.
Now with the continuing saga going up before the Malaysian Parliament, this vividly appears to be a tit-for-tat confrontation, which for the man-in-the-street, on both sides of the Causeway, may well be a cursory storm-in-a-teacup.