KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 27): Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that respecting the judgement of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was the primary basis for the government he helmed in 2018 to withdraw both the application for a review of the court's decision in the Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge sovereignty case, and the request for an interpretation of the decision.
The former prime minister said this in a statement prepared by his lawyer Rafique Rashid, in response to Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun's announcement earlier on Friday (Jan 27) that the Cabinet had, on Jan 11, concluded that the decision made by the previous government that Mahathir helmed in 2018 was “not in order” and “improper”, following the tabling of a report on the matter by the Special Task Force on the Sovereignty of Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge to the Cabinet.
According to Idrus, the AG's Chambers is now studying the recommendations made by the special task force, including the issue relating to tort of misfeasance in public office, and would take appropriate action to carry out the Cabinet's decision.
Mahathir countered that he is perplexed that the unity government holds the view that the withdrawals were improper, while also saying it respects the ICJ’s decision. "Respecting the ICJ is the primary basis for the decision of the previous government in 2018," he said.
In 2008, the ICJ ruled that Pulau Batu Puteh — which is also known as Pedra Branca — belongs to Singapore, while Middle Rocks is under Malaysia, with South Ledge, or Tubir Selatan, to the state in the territorial waters where it is located.
The then Barisan Nasional government requested from the ICJ an interpretation of the judgement. But in 2018, the Pakatan Harapan government led by Mahathir decided not to pursue the matter.
Mahathir, in his statement on Friday, said the decision to withdraw the bids was made after extensive consideration of the advice and opinion of Dr Brendan Plant and two local lawyers.
“The said lawyers were the same lawyers appointed by Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali to his team in 2016. Legal advice was also taken from the then solicitor general in the absence of the AG at that time,” he said. According to the AGC's website, Datuk Engku Nor Faizah Engku Atek held the position of solicitor general between 2016 to 2020.
Mahathir pointed out that he had, at the very outset, firmly stated that Apandi, who leads the special task force to review the Pulau Batu Puteh case, was biased and in a clear position of conflict of interest as it was his initiative to recommend the review of the ICJ decision in the first place.
“Surely this government, which believes in justice and reform, would want to revisit the issue of bias and conflict of interest of the Special Task Force,” the seasoned politician said, claiming it is key in extracting the truth of the matter.
“It is quite baffling that the Pulau Batu Puteh saga is still being relentlessly pursued despite the myriad of explanations, evidence and justifications that have been repeatedly made,” he said.
Nonetheless, Mahathir said he was, and still is, ever willing to assist in any investigation, so long as issues of conflict, bias or breach of natural justice are resolved.