JOHOR BAHRU: The crown prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim on Tuesday (Apr 2) hit back at Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for saying that the southern state has been aware of a new shipping hub project.
In a hard-hitting Facebook post, the royal stated that Dr Mahathir was "acting unconstitutionally" over the project, which would see the world's largest ship-to-ship transfer hub being constructed in Johor Bahru’s port waters.
The crown prince noted that land and water matters are the state's prerogative. He insisted that the royal family and the state government were not told of the project earlier.
"Whoever who says that Johor is aware is lying," he said, without naming Dr Mahathir.
Earlier in the day, the prime minister witnessed the signing ceremony of the project in Putrajaya, where he said he was surprised to learn that the crown prince was in the dark.
"The Tengku Mahkota Johor does not know about it although he lives in Johor, but a lot of Johoreans know (about the project) and I am surprised that he does not,” said the prime minister.
Dr Mahathir also said that Singapore has been informed about the project, adding that it will be within Malaysian waters.
The crown prince had on Sunday shared a Facebook post of local group Gerakan Muafakat (translated as Unity Movement), which stated that Johor was not consulted on the project.
It accused the federal government of challenging Johor's jurisdiction and depriving Johoreans of economic opportunities by giving the project to "a certain Putrajaya leader's crony".
The post added that Putrajaya's action in violating Johor's sovereignty is akin to challenging Johoreans to secede from Malaysia. "Do not test our patience time and again, because our patience has a limit," it said.
In denying the claims, Dr Mahathir said on Tuesday: "Everyone in Malaysia is my crony, because I work for everybody, including Johoreans.”
He said the project would benefit Malaysia. "I do not think there is anyone who wants Malaysia to lose out by siding with others," he said.
READ: From patrol policeman to royal bodyguard: How a Singaporean came to protect the Johor crown prince
VOICE CLIP PURPORTEDLY SHOWED CHIEF MINISTER UNAWARE OF PROJECT
In his Tuesday Facebook post, the crown prince attached a voice recording which appeared to be Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian fielding questions from journalists.
The man in the recording was heard saying: "I was not in Johor for two days, so far I didn't receive any news, except the Gerakan Muafakat post which has gone viral via WhatsApp.”
“Whether it is true or not, I don't know yet. I have no idea so it is a bit difficult for me to answer. Let me check and if it is true, I will tell you later."
The crown prince also took the opportunity to hit out at Putrajaya for ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), describing it as the second unconstitutional act. Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah had signed the Instrument of Accession to the Rome Statute of ICC on Mar 4.
"The government signed the instrument without getting consent from the Conference of Rulers," he said.
He earlier said the Rome Statute was “not good for the Rulers, Malays and Islam”.
The outspoken royal has locked horns with Dr Mahathir over state and national issues since the 94-year-old returned to helm the federal government.
In fact, ties between the Johor royal family and Dr Mahathir have not always been smooth sailing. It was the prime minister who launched a campaign in the 1990s to curb the excesses of royalty and remove the sultans’ immunity from criminal prosecution, following two assault cases involving the Johor royal family.
The ship-to-ship hub project - the focus of the latest exchange between the crown prince and Dr Mahathir - is a joint venture between KA Petra and Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing's Hutchison Port Holdings Ltd on a 70:30 basis.
The 1,214-hectares hub will facilitate the transfer of liquid cargo such as crude oil, fuel oil, gas oil, liquefied natural gas and other petroleum-based products.
Its construction will begin within the next 12 months and is estimated to cost between US$150 million and US$180 million.
KA Petra expects the hub to add RM18 billion (US$4.4 billion) to Malaysia's GDP.