High Court rules political appointment of Sabah Water Department director illegal

Julia Chan
Sabah Water Department director Amarjit Singh (2nd right) looks on as Sabah Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Peter Anthony (centre) examines a well in Kampung Pulau Berhala, Sandakan October 2, 2019. — Bernama pic

KOTA KINABALU, Oct 9 — The High Court here has declared the political appointment of Datuk Amarjit Singh as Sabah Water Department director in August last year to be unlawful.

High Court judge Ravinthran Paramaguru said the appointment contravened Section 3 of the Sabah Water Supply Enactment 2003 that restricts senior positions to only civil servants.

The judge did not nullify, however, any of the actions that resulted from the director’s appointment.

Former chief minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee and Tawau businessman Pang Thou Chung filed the lawsuit in March to contest the legality of Amarjit’s appointment.

Amarjit, a qualified water engineer, was working with private firms up until his appointment.

He was also among 11 people investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission for rural development projects, along with Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal. No charges were filed on the investigation.

Yong and Pang sought a declaration that Section 3 of the enactment, which stated that only members of the public service were qualified for senior posts, was mandatory.

They claimed that Amarjit had never been a member of the state civil service while he had never undergone proficiency training and assessments, professional development and government examinations required for someone to be appointed to such a senior post.

They said his appointment was merely due to his connection in the ruling Parti Warisan Sabah.

They also said that Amarjit's actions since his appointment on August 10 last year had jeopardised water supply in Sabah.

They cited the abrupt cancellation of two crucial water supply projects in Tawau and Lahad Datu as well as the termination of concession agreement of six firms operating water treatment plants.

They said the contract termination had exposed the Sabah government to lawsuits to a tune of RM409.8 million.

Yong, in an immediate reaction today hailed High Court’s decision, saying it was a clear and definite law contained in the State Enactment that the government can’t ignore.

“Although the court had stopped short of quashing all the actions of the director from the time of his illegal appointment on 10th August 2018, the court declaration that the appointment of the water department director is in contravention of the Water Supply Enactment 2003 is effective as of today 9th October 2019.

“Therefore, the only proper and legal thing for the purported director is to leave his office and refrain from giving instructions to any officers or staff at the water department. Any further actions by him or officers and staff acting under his instructions could potentially be breaking the law,” he said.

He called on the government to uphold the rule of law and respect the judgement of the High Court today.

“I warn the government to not think of ‘regularising the illegal’ by repeating other illegal methods to retain a political party member as director of the water department. The Sabah public service has enough qualified officers to helm the department. Please do not sacrifice the public service just because of a political party member,” he said.

Amarjit, when contacted, said he would leave the decision up to the state government.

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