How could something that belonged to us, historically speaking, now fall into foreign hands? What did we do or not do for such a situation to arise? Where did we go wrong that twelve of the sixteen judges on the panel in the International Court of Justice in the Hague set up by the United Nations to deliberate on the ownership of Pulau Batu Puteh should award it to Singapore?
Obviously, the judges were not convinced with the arguments put forward by our team led by the foreign minister and his ministry’s officials. The verdict has not gone down well with Malaysians least of all the Sultan of Johore who now wants it back at any cost. But both countries had agreed prior to going to the international court that whatever decision the court arrived at would be honoured by both parties.
So how could we have another bite at the ‘cherry’ before the ten-year period is up when no more claims to Pulau Batu Puteh can be made?
The judges based their award on legal arguments without much attention to historical aspects of the issue. That could possibly be the reason the Malaysian team was ill-prepared against a very powerful team led by the Singaporeans who relied solely on the administrative and legal issues involved. The Malaysians were so sure that Pulau Batu Puteh - situated where it is - can only be part of Malaysia and that nobody could lay any claim to it.
Therein the carelessness set in with the Johor acting assistant state secretary writing that silly letter in 1953 disclaiming ownership of the island. Secondly, the disappearance of a file where permission to build the Horsburgh Lighthouse was being sought from the then Sultan of Johor has gone missing. They have been searching for that file for the last eighteen years and it’s nowhere to be found. Unless it surfaces before the ten-year period is up, there will be no more Pulau Batu Puteh but Pedra Branca as the Singaporeans wish to refer to it.
Our team that went to the Hague to present their case was poor. There was no historian in it neither were the best brains available in the country part of the team that would take on the Singaporeans. Our foreign minster who agreed to take the matter to court was not properly advised.
He trusted his lieutenants in the foreign ministry and civil servants and felt sure that after twenty eight years of fruitless negotiations with our neighbour, the matter could be settled in our favour through the International Court Of Justice once and for all. He felt in no way could we lose the case. But three quarters of the judges on the panel thought otherwise. Thus Pulau Batu Puteh is not ours anymore.
The decision was hailed as a ‘win-win solution’ by our foreign minister. We’ve lost a strategic island that guards the entrance to the straits of Johor to a foreign power and we are being told that it is a ‘win, win solution’. I’ve been scratching my head to find out how a sovereign piece of our territory lost through foolishness is a ‘win, win solution’. Is this just to appease the feelings of all Malaysians or does the foreign minister really mean what he says?
In either case he has sadly missed the point. Pulau Batu Puteh has now been consigned to the dustbins of history by our own folly and it will be a miracle to rescue it form where it has been sent. It is a ‘lose, lose situation’ and at best we can only pray for a miracle to somehow reverse the decision that has already been made in favour of Singapore.
In the meanwhile, search we must for all missing documents that relate to Pulau Batu Puteh and its status as part of the Johor Sultanate. There are other uninhabited islands in and around Malaysian waters whose ownership has not been established. Lest there be foreign claimants, they must be identified and properly documented as Malaysian territory or else we may yet have another case to defend.
Then we may have another ‘win, win solution’ but lose another island and be asked to celebrate the loss. Are we short of brains in the country? Apparently so, going by the proclamations of the foreign minister and his immediate predecessor.
The loss of Pulau Batu Puteh must bring us to a rude awakening as to whether we have the right people to run the government or has the New Economic Policy hijacked all able people and shoved them in some corner to prevent them from competing against the bumiputera for choice positions in government and even in the private sector. The loss of Pulau Batu Puteh does show the weakness in the present system of government and it must be changed if we are not to suffer further losses in other areas of our economic life and territorial integrity.
The sooner we learn that race-based parties in multi-racial Malaysia cannot exist at the expense of intelligence and hard work the better it will be for us all so as to compete and stay afloat in a globalised world.
Else we may also be consigned to the dustbins of history as a failed nation. Going by where we are at this moment tin time, this scenario is not an impossibility!