Friday, November 23, 2007

Johor official 'had no legal authority to disown island'

THE Johor acting state secretary had no legal authority in 1953 to declare that Pulau Batu Puteh (PBP) was not a territory of the state, Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail said.

He said the Johor Agreement and the Federation of Malaya Agreement, both of which came into force in 1948, provided that all external and defence matters of the state be transferred to the British.

Members of the Malaysian team preparing material for submission to the International Court of Justice yesterday.

"Such affairs were to be executed through the high commissioner of the federation," he said in the opening session of Malaysia's second round oral submission before the International Court of Justice.

In that year, the nine Malay States, including Johor, the former Straits Settlements (SS) of Malacca and Penang made up the federation.

Under both agreements, Johor, which was a protected state, transferred all of her rights, powers and jurisdiction on defence and external affairs to the British, he said.
Gani said both agreements continued to be in force until the Federation of Malaya Independence Act 1957 came into force.

He said a clause in the Federation Agreement provided that the executive authority of the federation shall be exercised by the high commissioner either directly or through officers subordinate to him.

Gani said another clause in the Federation Agreement clearly showed that no power or authority exercised by the high commissioner could be exercised by a state secretary.

"The Federation Agreement does not provide any executive authority to any state or settlement.

"Johor, therefore, had no power or competence to deal with matters pertaining to external affairs," he said.

Gani said the then Johor acting state secretary, M. Seth Saaid, was merely a civil servant and had no legal capacity to write the 1953 letter to renounce any part of Johor's territories.

On Tuesday, Singapore's agent Tommy Koh, in his closing remark, claimed that Johor in 1953 was a sovereign state and Seth's letter to the Singapore government was binding under international law.

Malaysia had earlier submitted that Singapore was seeking to use the letter as her root to claim title over PBP.

Gani also pointed out that the letter from Singapore representative J.D. Higham was addressed to the Johor British adviser and copied to the chief secretary of the federation.

He said it was not addressed to Seth and the acting state secretary undertook himself to issue the letter to Higham.

"He wrote directly to a local authority of the British colony of Singapore.

"He did not copy his letter to the chief secretary," Gani said.

He added that there was no evidence that the chief secretary or the high commissioner was aware of the contents of this letter.

Gani said the way the correspondence was conducted was procedurally irregular and incorrect.

He said Singapore could not prove PBP was no man's land although she claimed that the British had taken possession of the island between 1847 to 1851.

"Singapore's case simply rests on the inference that PBP was terra nullius (no man's land)," he said.

Gani said Singapore also remained silent or failed to produce the "incontrovertible legal evidence" in the form of documents claimed in 1978 to be in her possession.

He said Singapore's conduct after the critical date of dispute in December 1979 were relevant for assessing state activities carried out by the island republic.

"They are not a normal continuation of Singapore's prior acts of administrating the lighthouse but to strengthen her legal position in the present dispute," he said.

Hearing continues - The New Straits Time

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