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June 18, 2024 decision whether SLS can continue to pursue Sabahan's right to 40% revenues

By Luke Rintod
KOTA KINABALU : In an about turn, the GRS state government in Sabah, retracted all the "sensitive" arguments by Tengku Fuad Tengku Ahmad, earlier its appointed lawyer in the on-going court case of Sabah's claim to 40% of the revenue collected by the Federal government from the state.

The state attorney general, Datuk Nor Asiah Mohd Yusof, who appeared, via zoom meeting, at the Court of Appeal case management here today, presented a new three-point stand of the state government on the matter.

In fact the state government's new stand was in a written letter dated 23 May, 2024 to the appelate court by Nor Asiah, and was affirmed at the court today.

First, that the state government now did not want to challenge the leave granted by the High Court earlier in November 11, 2022 to Sabah Law Society (SLS) to proceed with the substantive hearing of its judicial review application in respect of the 40% Special Grant Entitlement of the State of Sabah.

Second, that the GRS government now retracts all submissions made by its lawyer Tengku Fuad in the Court of Appeal recently on May 16 2024, on the issue of locus standi of the SLS in pursuing the tax right claim.

Third, the state government also retracted Tengku Fuad's submissions in the same court on the Article 112C and 112D of the Federal Constitution as being  "an aspiration" and not a mandatory or absolute right of the State of Sabah.

Nor Asiah also informed the Court of Appeal today that Tengku Fuad has ceased to act for the Sabah state government, and that the State Attorney has taken over.

Both Tengku Fuad and Nor Asiah along with the Chief Minister, Datuk Hajiji Mohd Noor, had become targets of severe criticisms and foul comments in social media until today for the "sensitive" assertions by Tengku Fuad in the Court of Appeal last week, something unseen for a long time in Sabah.

In fact the night of the appelate court hearing last week, three of Hajiji's colleagues in GRS namely Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, Datuk Yong Teck Lee and Tan Sri Pandikar Amin went to Sri Gaya (CM official residence) and registered a very strong views to Hajiji on Tengku Fuad's line of arguments and advised (rather demanded) Hajiji to do something right to avoid further public backlash.

The trio, and the president of Parti Kerjasama Anak Negeri, Datuk Henrynus Amin, and former president of Upko, Datuk Madius Tangau, were among senior politicians seen mingling with a large crowd at the court compound last week. A few hundred Sabahans, activists, NGO leaders, politicians, young and old of various races, some in traditional gears, thronged the court compound in support of the SLS effort.

They brought along banners, some with words expressively supporting the 40% claim by Sabah.

This case has become a hot topic as it involves what Sabah claims to be its constitutional right, but which the federal government has successively failed or reluctant to adhere, affecting badly the ability of the state government to raise fund to develop the large state which is more than half of the whole size of the 11-state Peninsular or Malaya as is more commonly known in Sabah.

What irked Sabahans more is the reluctance of Hajiji to pursue the case, instead he agreed in 2022, without getting the consensus of the state legislative assembly, to a Federal proposal of special yearly grant of RM200-300 million for a period of five years, in lieu of the 40% claim which some claimed, if realised, could get Sabah fund in the region of RM4-5 billion annually.

The fact that Upko President Datuk Ewon Benedik and 11 other PH leaders, decided to retract similar suit much earlier, even though they promised would never do it, has further enraged Sabahans, accusing them of turn-coats and sold-souls, soon after they were given lucrative posts by the Federal Government.

Today, at case management, the Court's Deputy Registrar, Puan Norhamizah, informed that a decision by the three-member Court of Appeal, will be given on 18 June, 2024. 

At the case management today, the Federal Attorney-General was represented by Krishna Priya Veenagopal, while SLS was represented by David Fung, Jeyan Marimuttu and Janice Junie Lim. 

Nor Asiah appeared for the Sabah state government together with Datuk Brenndon Keith Soh, and Devina Teo.

The eagerly anticipated decision on June 18, will determine whether SLS can continue to pursue Sabahans' right to the 40% Entitlement for the lost years (1974 to 2021). 

From the law's perspective, it will indicate Malaysian courts' commitment to the path of justice for the public through Public Interest Litigation.

SLS, meanwhile, welcomes this latest development and is supportive of this latest position which is in line with the recent statement by the Chief Minister.#

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