KUALA LUMPUR: Former attorney-general Abu Talib Othman today said that Dr Mahathir Mohamad had merely acted on the command of the then King, when calling for the tribunal which led to the sacking of Lord President Salleh Abas in 1988.
Abu Talib was responding to allegations made by Mahathir with regards to his name being used by the then AG to ‘protect’ the King’s name over the actions taken against Salleh.
“It is not true that I used his name. The prime minister had to play a role in the setting up of the tribunal to examine the case against Salleh.
“The communication with the palace was handled by the PM’s office. It is in this respect that I used the name of the PM and his office,” he said explaining that it was because the Federal Constitution states a tribunal can only be established on the representation made by the PM to the King.
“However, he (Mahathir) was acting on the command of the then Yang di-Pertuan Agung Sultan Iskandar Sultan Ismail,” he said referring to the former Sultan of Johor.
Abu Talib said that he had seen the note – written and signed by the King – that was given to the PM commanding him to remove Salleh as Lord President and to replace Salleh with Abdul Hamid Omar.
“I went to see the PM and told him that neither he nor the King can remove a sitting Lord President, as that was against the constitution.
“It was a very challenging moment as the PM then asked, ‘can you ignore the command of the King?’. However, I advised and reminded him of the oath of office he took as PM to protect and defend the constitution,” he said.
Abu Talib said that Mahathir advised him to inform the King personally and he did that, going to Johor for the meeting.
“The King insisted that action be taken, despite me saying that neither him nor the PM could remove a sitting Lord President.
“He (the King) instead suggested that it be done in accordance with the constitution. So, I went back to the PM, and informed that any action taken must be done in compliance with the constitution,” he said in an interview today.
Abu Talib, who served as AG from 1980 to 1993, said the procedure for removing a sitting Lord President is prescribed in article 125 (3) of the Federal Constitution. The title of “Lord President” has since been renamed to “Chief Justice of Malaysia”.
“It clearly provides … to enquire whether it’s a case of misconduct … or any other course before one can remove the Lord President.
“And the setting up of the tribunal can only be done on a representation made by the PM to the King.
“Since both of them agreed action should be taken, I prepared all the necessary papers for the setting up of the tribunal, for the purpose of inquiry into misconduct – to remove the Lord President,” Abu Talib said.
However, according to Abu Talib, had Salleh presented himself at the tribunal, things could have been different.
“I conducted the inquiry myself. Things could have been different, but he (Salleh) elected not to attend the tribunal hearing.
“Nevertheless, the hearing proceeded, I led the evidence to support the complaint lodged against him.
“At the end of the hearing, the tribunal submitted a report to the King and recommended he should be removed on the grounds of misbehaviour,” he said.
Abu Talib pointed out that verbal evidence considered to constitute misbehaviour by the Lord President was presented during the tribunal, but not the “letter”.
“I took it upon myself not to tender the letter as it would be unfair to Salleh.
“I’m not defending Mahathir. I’m not a politician. I’m not playing politics, but stating facts.
“This issue had been resolved, but people are bringing it up again to be politicised and made personal,” Abu Talib said.