It has come as a great shock that the government has surreptitiously settled out of court the sacked former attorney general’s suit against Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister then, and the federal government.
Why it was so, nobody knows. The Attorney General, Idrus Harun, did not feel the need to announce the settlement or explain why he chose to settle out of court.
Soon after Mahathir became prime minister for the second time following Barisan Nasional’s defeat in the 9 May 2018 general election, Apandi Ali’s tenure as attorney general was terminated on 5 June 2018. One would assume that Mahathir would have consulted the Attorney General’s Chambers before firing Apandi. Or was it a unilateral action by Mahathir?
The attorney general owes the rakyat jelata a clarification to confirm whether he or the Attorney General’s Chambers was consulted for a legal opinion before Mahathir embarked on Apandi’s dismissal – the first such dismissal in six decades since independence on 31 August 1957.
If Mahathir did not seek assistance from the Attorney General’s Chambers, did the attorney general consequently advise Mahathir that what he did was wrong and it went against the legal position? Did the attorney general act prudently?
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If indeed Mahathir had acted unilaterally without seeking a legal opinion, does it mean that the attorney general’s position now is that Mahathir was wrong then in what he did, leading to the present out-of-court settlement?
Mahathir claims when he went to the Attorney General’s Chambers to give his witness statement, he was told he had a good case. Was this true or was Mahathir concocting a cock-and-bull story to appear he was right in what he did?
This aside, there was some justification for why Mahathir got rid of Apandi. When Apandi appallingly dropped the case against Najib Razak’s 1MDB investigation on 25 January 2016, claiming there was no case against Najib despite massive evidence glaring at him, thinking Malaysians were then unanimously of the opinion that Apandi was not a competent attorney general.
What followed next under Tommy Thomas, as the new attorney general replacing Apandi, contradicted that opinion [that there was no case] and established that there was indeed a case to answer. Najib was subsequently tried for corruption, convicted and sentenced. His appeal is pending. But the fact as it stands now is that the High Court and the Court of Appeal have found him guilty of corruption.
The next issue that begs an explanation is, how much was Apandi paid as compensation? The attorney general cannot hide behind some privacy privilege and refuse to disclose the amount paid as compensation. After all, it was the people’s money that he doled out freely, and the people have every right to know how much of their money was used towards this “unsettling settlement.” It wasn’t his money to give away as he pleased.
Wouldn’t it have been better to have gone to court over this issue and let the trial take its own course so that the presiding judge(s) could rule from the evidence adduced either to dismiss Apandi’s suit seeking special damages totalling RM2.23m, general damages, exemplary and punitive damages, costs and other reliefs deemed fit by the court, or to grant him publicly disclosed compensation on publicly disclosed grounds of judgment.
Why the attorney general did not choose this usual way of settling the issue in court is something he needs to convince us. Whatever the court awarded would have been reported – as opposed to what has happened. As things stand, the amount of compensation has now become a state secret and hidden from the public. This shroud of secrecy cannot be accepted or tolerated by all thinking Malaysians.
Mahathir is right in demanding that the settlement amount be disclosed and made public. We Malaysians have a right to know why the attorney general chose to settle this suit out of court just five days before it was due to go on trial?
We have a right to know in whose interest the attorney general acted in this instance. Malaysians await a clarification from the attorney general. Will he dare to respond?