“Sulu claims: Two wrongs did not make a right”

By giving undue importance to legality, both the BN and PH governments had a share in prolonging the claims of the Sulu heirs to the extent that arbitration has come to be relied on.

Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy, Focus Malaysia

THE FORMER attorney-general (AG) under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government Tan Sri Tommy Thomas has sought to give his side of the story on the Sulu heirs’ traditional claim on Sabah.

The history of this claim started with the agreement in 1878 between the Sulu sultanate and the two Europeans entrepreneurs. By ceding or leasing Sabah to the entrepreneurs, the Sulu heirs received annual payments.

When Sabah became a colony of the British in 1946, the payments became the responsibility of the British. Similarly, when Sabah was incorporated with the Federation of Malaysia, the payment of RM5,300 was continued by the Government without much thought.

After having signed the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), the new Malaysian Government could have discontinued the payments under the new political circumstances, but didn’t. Why this was so would remain a mystery for a long time.

Fast forward to 2013, when the Government under former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak abruptly stopped the payments to the Sulu heirs.

This was after the incursion in Sabah in early 2013, allegedly by armed insurgents loyal to the Sulu heirs. Clashes with the Malaysian armed forces resulted in the death of a number of insurgents, villagers and few members of the armed forces.

After that, Najib, without a public inquiry, unilaterally stopped the annual stipends.

Since there were many claimants to the Sulu sultanate, it couldn’t be established whether those heirs in the receipt of annual payments were indeed behind the insurgency.

If the matter had been taken to the court in Sabah, the links between the insurgents and the real Sulu heirs could have been established for Malaysia to adopt a definitive stand on the payments.

The unilateral cessation of payments to the Sulu heirs was the straw that broke the camel’s back. For this irrationality, Najib has to take sole responsibility and not pass the buck to the others.

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