KUALA LUMPUR: The establishment of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to review the handling of the sovereignty case involving Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge is aimed at finding solutions and proposing improvements regarding any issues related to national sovereignty, and not to find fault with any party, says Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said (pix).

She said the people of Malaysia, especially those in the state of Johor, deserved an explanation regarding the reasons behind the decision not to proceed with the application for revision of judgment and request for interpretation in the case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

“This should not happen again in the future. The people of Malaysia deserve to know the raw truth and web of reasons behind this decision.

“This is a matter of rights and national sovereignty -- where did we go wrong? Who is responsible for the decision that led to Malaysia losing its rights over Batu Puteh? Were the legal procedures and processes followed?” Azalina said during a ministerial briefing session in the Special Chamber at the Parliament building today.

She said another question to be raised was who had advised the Government at that time (2018), considering the attorney-general then was on garden leave.

Azalina also questioned whether the Cabinet was informed about the matter and whether the Cabinet’s decision was obtained, as well as whether the Federal Government at that time had consulted the Johor State Government and the Conference of Rulers and obtained their consent, considering that the matter involved land issues and territorial affairs, as stipulated under the Federal Constitution.

She said that all these questions have yet to be answered clearly and explicitly, whether through internal investigations or investigations by the Special Task Force (STF) established on Dec 22, 2021.

“In this regard, it is clear that there is a need for a comprehensive investigation to be carried out to examine the handling of all matters related to this issue, particularly from a legal perspective, including aspects of tort of misfeasance, as a direction forward so that appropriate measures can be taken by the Government against any identified parties and individuals,“ she said.

Azalina stated that the MADANI Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim would not compromise on any matters involving questions of rights, sovereignty, and national dignity.

“The Prime Minister himself has given an assurance in this August House that the Government will continue to fight tirelessly to protect and preserve Malaysia’s interests and sovereignty at all times,“ she said.

Azalina said the establishment of the RCI was also a fact-finding mission on behalf of His Majesty, King of Malaysia Sultan Ibrahim to enable further detailed, independent, transparent, and professional investigations following the findings of the STF, which took 10 months to produce its final report.

According to Azalina, the STF faced various challenges in carrying out its tasks, including difficulties and delays in obtaining classified documents held by certain ministries/departments/individuals; certain ministries/departments/individuals providing insufficient input and views; challenges in obtaining documents due to protective orders on access to documents and materials; and the STF’s lack of authority to summon witnesses and obtain related documents.

She said an RCI, on the other hand, had several significant powers in conducting comprehensive investigations and obtaining the truth for the sake of justice for the people, including the ability to subpoena individuals to give testimony; issue arrest warrants for individuals who refuse to comply; and impose fines on those who refuse.

In general, she said, the terms of reference for an RCI include obtaining further findings related to considering the challenges faced by the STF and providing its findings; reviewing, examining, and providing views if any relevant parties have violated any laws, work norms, or administrative directives in carrying out their responsibilities.

It also aims to evaluate, identify, and propose recommendations regarding legislative and non-legislative actions that can be taken; and provide a report containing study results, analysis, and relevant recommendations for the consideration of the Cabinet.

“The time frame set for this RCI investigation is between one to three months, with a maximum period of six months, taking into account the broad scope of the investigation and the complexity of the issues involved,” she said.

Azalina said that the RCI report would be submitted to Sultan Ibrahim for consent and then presented to the Cabinet so that appropriate actions could be considered based on the study’s findings towards more effective handling of national sovereignty issues, with the government also committing to presenting the RCI report in Parliament.

On Feb 14, Sultan Ibrahim consented to the establishment of the RCI, which consists of seven members with former Chief Justice Tun Md Raus Sharif as the chairman.

Azalina said a 30-year dispute to defend Malaysia’s rights and sovereignty over Batu Puteh ultimately ended in Malaysia losing its rights and sovereignty over Batu Puteh forever.

“A black moment in the history of sovereign Malaysia. We did not lose this dispute in court. In fact, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) itself once mentioned that the rock once belonged to the Old Johor Sultanate,“ she said.

On Feb 2, 2017, the Malaysian government applied for a revision of the judgement rendered by the ICJ on May 23, 2008, but in May 2018, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government under the leadership of Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad withdrew the application, two weeks before the case was scheduled to be heard on June 11, 2018. -Bernama

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