PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The federal government is not an "outsider", said Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in a rebuttal to Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim's remarks over the controversial Pulau Kukup issue.
"Malaysians are not outsiders. The federal government is not an outsider. We are responsible for all things in the country," Tun Mahathir said, after attending an event on Monday (Dec 10).
Tunku Ismail, in responding to a statement by federal Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Xavier Jayakumar on the status of Pulau Kukup, had said that as "an outsider, you don't need to meddle on matters related to Johor".
The crown prince said only the Johor sultan had jurisdiction to override the state Constitution.
Pulau Kukup, located in the Strait of Malacca in south Johor, had been a national park since 1997 and is mostly uninhabited.
Malaysians were surprised when it was recently revealed that the Johor state government, under Pakatan Harapan, had quietly degazetted the island to make it "sultanate land" of Johor.
Known as the world's second largest uninhabited mangrove island, Pulau Kukup is one of five Ramsar sites in Malaysia. Ramsar sites are wetland sites accorded international importance under the United Nations' Convention on Wetlands.
Amid brouhaha over the Johor move, federal minister Xavier issued a statement last week saying the island should continue to be managed by the state government.
The island, he said, has over 18 species of mangroves, with an ecosystem that could rarely be found, and was under the threat of extinction.
Mr Xavier said: "It is also a resource for fish and aquaculture. It is home to an invaluable biodiversity treasure for the country as well as for the state of Johor and any failure in managing the area can lead us to lose these treasures for good."
Non-governmental organisation, Lawyers for Liberty, asked why the stripping of national park status was done "silently", without any public announcement, until the gazette was leaked online.
Tunku Ismail had said earlier that the Johor ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, is of the view that all national parks should be changed to sultanate land for better protection and preservation for future generations.
In response to Mr Xavier's statement, the prince wrote on his Facebook account on Sunday: "First of all, as an outsider, you don't need to meddle on matters related to Johor.
"Secondly, no matter what statement or letter is issued, you have no jurisdiction to override the Johor state Constitution.
"The only one who can change the Constitution is the ruler. The letter Johor has issued is clear that Pulau Kukup will remain protected as a national park."
The Malaysian Cabinet decided last week that Pulau Kukup should remain in the hands of the state government.
PM Mahathir told a news conference on Monday that he hopes the Johor state government will accept the federal government's decision to not pass management of the island to the Johor sultanate.
"That is the stance of federal government. I hope Johor will accept. Pulau Kukup should not be developed. It should remain as a forest reserve, particularly as it is a special mangrove forest.
"We don't want the mangrove forest to be cut down in order to develop the island," said Dr Mahathir.
Responding to public comments about the matter, Tunku Ismail on Sunday evening wrote on his Twitter account: "I respect Dr Xavier as a Minister but I would suggest that in the future, perhaps he could work closely with the state."
He said he does not have any ill intentions in reprimanding the minister. "The government has to work together for the country. A minister has the right to voice his opinion," he said.