The Story behind Cession Money

by Kadir Mohamad

I REFER to Prof Ranjit Singh’s article, “It’s time to close the chapter” (Sunday Star, March 10) in which he argued that Malaysia should immediately stop paying the so-called quit rent or cession money to the heirs of the ancient Sultanate of Sulu.

I am surprised that historian Ranjit Singh had failed to mention that the cession money which is still being paid to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu until this day is in fulfillment of a High Court of North Borneo order of 1938, which allowed the petition of nine Sulu heirs to receive and share between them the RM5,300 (at today’s rate) annual payment that was previously made to the Sultan of Sulu before he died in 1936.

The Sultan died without leaving any direct heirs. That was why nine less direct descendants of his were recognised and allowed to inherit the money at that time.

And the text of the 1938 judgment made it clear that the right to the money had nothing whatsoever to do with any question of sovereignty.

In my view, Malaysia needs to continue honouring the 1938 court judgment because any violation of a court order can be challenged in court by interested parties. Malaysia should not allow such an opportunity to arise. Many dubious heirs, I am sure, are simply waiting for such a public relations opportunity.

A court order must be carried out unless a settlement is made to settle the matter out of court.The nine heirs who received the court judgment in 1938 have all died.

We simply do not know how many people now claim to be the second or third generation of heirs.This adds to the problem of finding the genuine heirs to settle the issue of cession money, perhaps in a lump sum payment.

The more difficult issue, however, is how to get the Philippines Government to drop their so-called Sabah claim since the Philippines Government has taken the position that it is maintaining that claim because the heirs had given them the right to do so in 1962.

As such, Malaysia should never effect a final settlement with the heirs unless Manila officially drops their so-called claim to Sabah at the same time.

Then, there is this question about a self-proclaimed Sultan who sent some followers to create trouble and kill people in Sabah.

In this 21st century, any attempt by any individual to claim other people’s territory as a state belonging to him should be treated merely as a black comedy.

This is particularly so since the so-called Sultan is merely one of several pretenders who have no land to call their own kingdom and whose position has no legal standing in their own country.

Finally, everyone should take note that in 2001 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rejected the attempt by the Philippines to intervene in the case between Malaysia and Indonesia citing that they had a legal interest in the matter before the court.

The sentiment of the court was reflected by Judge Ad Hoc Frank who wrote, in his separate judgment: “Modern international law does not recognize the survival of a right to sovereignty based solely on historic title; not in any event after an exercise of self determination conducted (in Sabah in 1962) in accordance with the requisites of international law, the bona fides of which has received international recognition by the political organs of the United Nations. Against this, historic claims and pre colonial titles are mere relics of another international legal era, one that ended with the setting of the sun on the age of colonial imperium”.

KADIR MOHAMAD, Cyberjaya–  Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy Adivsor to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Agent for Malaysia in the ICJ case between Malaysia and Indonesia, during which the Philippines tried to intervene in 2001 but was disallowed by the court.