SIBU, June 23: The Court of Appeal made two rulings yesterday, one in favour of the Sarawak government while the other, in favour of defendant Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh in the defamatory suit brought by the Sarawak government against the former Second Finance Minister.
The Court of Appeal three-man bench comprising Datuk Seri Kamaluddin Mohd Said, Dato Lee Heng Cheong and Dato Che Mohd Ruzima Ghazali, dismissed an appeal by Wong who is also President of Parti Sarawak Bersatu against a Sibu High Court decision not to allow him to amend his defence to raise the issue that the Sarawak government has no locus standi or legal capacity to sue him for defamation.
The Sarawak government had commenced libel action against Wong for alleging in a press statement that it had given national oil corporation Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas) a massive discount on State Sales Tax (SST) on petroleum products and given up the State’s rights on petroleum for a meagre sum of RM2 billion as Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) MPs are now members of the Federal Cabinet.
To defend himself, Wong wanted to raise the issue that the Sarawak Government should not be allowed to sue its citizens as this would have a “chilling effect” on the freedom of speech.
The Sarawak government disagreed and argued that based on the Federal Court’s decision in Chong Chieng Jen v Government of State of Sarawak, a government in the Federation of Malaysia can sue for defamation under Section 3 of the Government Proceedings Act.
On April 13, 2021, in the High Court decision, the Judicial Commissioner held he was bound by the decision in Chong’s case and disallowed the issue of locus standi to be raised by Wong in his defence.
Before the Court of Appeal yesterday, Wong’s counsel, George Lo, argued the High Court should have allowed this issue of locus standi of the Government should be raise again.
On the plaintiff’s side, State Legal Counsel Dato Sri JC Fong argued that the Court of Appeal is also bound by the apex court’s judgment in Chong’s case. The law enunciated in that case that a government has the statutory right to sue in defamation and it must be followed.
At the conclusion of hearing via Zoom yesterday, the Court of Appeal unanimously struck out Wong’s appeal with costs of RM3,000 to be paid to the Sarawak government.
Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal also heard an appeal by Petronas chairman Tan Sri Ahmad Nizam Salleh against the Sibu High Court’s refusal to set aside the subpoena issued by Wong requiring the former to give evidence on, and to produce all documents leading to, the issuance of a joint statement dated May 8, 2020 signed by him on behalf of Petronas and the Sarawak government relating to the payment of SST by Petronas.
Ahamd Nizam said he had no knowledge of the agreement for the payment of SST as he was not involved in the negotiation with the State government.
Through his counsel, Ahmad Nizam, proposed that the Executive Senior Vice-President of Petronas who has direct knowledge of this matter, should be the person to testify in Court.
However, Wong’s counsel argued that since Ahmad Nizam signed the joint statement, he should testify.
The Court of Appeal agreed and struck out the Appeal with costs of RM5,000. — Dayakdaily