Sunday, June 15, 2008

Oil royalty goes straight to state

(New Straits Time 15/6/2008)
Rosli Zakaria and Zainuddin Muhamad

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi launching the East Coast Economic Region Development Council. With him is its chief executive officer Datuk Jebasingam Issace John.
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi launching the East Coast Economic Region Development Council. With him is its chief executive officer Datuk Jebasingam Issace John.

KUALA TERENGGANU: The Terengganu government will manage the state's oil royalty with immediate effect, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced yesterday.

The announcement finally puts to rest the thorny issue of control of the state's annual five per cent oil royalty, which the Federal Government withdrew on Sept 5, 2000, deciding instead to channel it directly to the people through development projects.

The decision had a huge impact on Terengganu, leading to situations where the state government was not consulted on projects approved and implemented by the various ministries.

"We will have further discussions on the procedures (to return the oil royalty). But the five per cent stays," Abdullah said after a closed-door meeting with the state Umno divisional, Youth, Wanita and Puteri wings here.

Asked if the decision meant that the civil suit filed by the state government in 2001 (which was then led by Pas) had been dropped, Abdullah pointed at Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said and said: "You have to ask him that."
But Ahmad declined to comment on the announcement, asking everyone instead to be patient until the details are finalised.

The amount due to the state government could not be immediately ascertained but sources believe that it is in the region of RM8 billion accumulated over the past eight years.

Regardless of the amount and Ahmad's call for patience, the people of Terengganu wasted no time in celebrating the announcement.

Opposition parties were delighted with the amicable solution reached between the Federal and state governments on the issue.

State Pas deputy commissioner Datuk Harun Taib said the people had been waiting for this for a long time, adding that it was decent of the prime minister to settle the issue out of court.

"Now, the onus is on the state government to be responsible with the five per cent royalty money which translates into billions of ringgit.

"Future development should benefit everyone and not just some of the people, as the money belongs to the people of Terengganu," said the Manir assemblyman, who wants to see more employment opportunities in the state.

Kuala Terengganu Parti Keadilan Rakyat division chief Dr Abdul Manaf Mat said that even with developments to be undertaken by the state government, there should be a lot of money left for the people.

"If I'm not mistaken, the arrears alone is in the region of RM9 billion and surely, with prudent investment by the state government, the state should never have to worry about money again.

"Part of such a huge amount should go directly to the people in the form of waivers on quit rents, assessment fees and other burdensome taxation."

Abdul Manaf said priority should go to the agricultural sector and the state should be turned into one of the top food producers in the country.

Kuala Terengganu MIC division chairman Dr Dayal Krishnan said the small Indian community in the state should also benefit from the oil royalty by being included in the state government's poverty eradication and housing plans.

Scholarships should also be awarded to Indian students and funds allotted for the building and maintenance of Hindu temples, he said.

(I'm sure that people of Terengganu are very happy for this)