'Did Ismail Sabri Eat Turtle Eggs Or Not?' Is Not The Question We Should Be Asking
On Wednesday, 4 November, a photo showing Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob having dinner at a seafood restaurant in Sandakan together with Beluran UMNO Chief James Ratib went viral on Facebook
Another showed what appears to be a plate full of turtle eggs there
A perfectly normal dinner, you would think. Except for one thing!
Turtles are a protected species under Schedule I of the Sabah Wildlife Enactment 1997.
It is unlawful to possess an animal or product of a species listed in Part I of Schedule 1 and the offender could face a fine of up to RM50,000 or imprisonment of up to five years, or both. And it includes harvesting, selling or consuming turtle eggs in the state.
Therefore it's not surprising that the conservationists are outraged
A group of environmental non-governmental organisations and research organisation Danau Girang Field Centre raised the alarm after the photograph, believed to have been taken in August was circulated on social media.
"Sabah's wonders are its beautiful islands, its lush tropical forest and its amazing wildlife, offering one of the best eco-tourism destinations in the world. What message are we conveying to the world when our own government officials consume products of endangered species," they said in a statement.
They collectively said it was time for people in Sabah to voice out that "it is not all right for politicians or for anyone to buy or consume turtle eggs". The environmentalists also urged the Sabah Wildlife Department to take stern action against any culprit, to send a strong message that protected species are not for sale or consumption.
"We should take pride in protecting them. These wildlife species are our national heritage. Wildlife provides sustainable economic benefits through tourism, and we should also protect our wildlife for future generations," they stressed.
State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun has said an investigation was initiated after the photographs surfaced
“The Sabah Wildlife Department is probing this matter,” he said on Wednesday.thestar.com.my
Sabah Wildlife Department will be questioning the restaurant owner
Sabah Wildlife Department's Director, William Baya, said two SWD officers had been tasked to carry out the investigations as well as seek the Sandakan Municipal Council’s assistance to get to the bottom of the incident.
"We hope to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible as we are making this case our utmost priority," said Baya, in a statement. Baya added that consuming turtle eggs was also an offence punishable under Section 41. "If they are caught, offenders can be fined RM50,000 or jailed five years, or both, upon conviction," Baya explained.
Meanwhile, when The Star contacted, Beluran UMNO Chief James denied that turtle eggs were served during the dinner. On what type of eggs are seen in the photos, James said, "I don't know."
And what has Ismail Sabri to say in his defence?
Caught under a conservationist fire, the Agriculture and Agri-based Industries Minister said he was not sure what eggs were served as he had only eaten fish at the dinner, adding that he abstained from eating turtle eggs served at a recent dinner because it is 'high in cholesterol'.
"I abstain from eating turtle eggs because it is high in cholesterol. It has been a long time since I've eaten turtle eggs," he is quoted by The Star as saying.
On the other hand, Masidi Manjun, Sabah Tourism Minister, has come out to defend Ismail Sabri, saying that instead of faulting the Federal Minister, his hosts should take the blame
“We can’t blame the guest. We should pose the question to the host. I can’t blame the federal minister, he is the guest.
“The hosts are local, they should know better. They are from Sandakan, anyway,” he told reporters last night when asked to comment on the photograph of Ismail Sabri at the dinner, which has sparked outrage among local conservationists.
To his credit, Masidi said he does not take for granted the conservation efforts by the state and also does not view the incident lightly, although it involved some known public servants
“To me, it shows more education needs to be done. Obviously people are not taking it seriously. Or if they do, in this particular case they seem to be giving an exception in this case. There is no exception ― it applies to everyone regardless of social status,” he said.
“Everyone trying their best to conserve the environment, but when people of high standing do that, it conveys the wrong message to ordinary people. We are supposed to lead by example and in this particular case, we may have failed,” he said.
However, regardless of whether Ismail Sabri ate turtle eggs or not, the question shouldn't be about that. A bigger issue is at play here!
The issue is that the people sitting on that dinner table are not ordinary people who may or may not know the laws prohibiting the consumption of turtle eggs in the state.
The fact is that Ismail Sabri not only sat through the dinner that included turtle eggs for the meal, an endangered species; as a Federal Minister he did nothing to stop the illegal act, even if he did not eat them, as he claims.
So whether or not he ate the turtle eggs, it was still his responsibility to stop!