S'wak govt's lawsuit against Petronas: Court to decide if judicial commissioner should recuse himself

  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 14 Jan 2020

KUCHING: The High Court here has reserved its judgment on whether a judicial commissioner should be recused from hearing the Sarawak government's lawsuit against Petronas for the company not paying the 5% state sales tax on petroleum products.

Judicial Commissioner Christopher Chin will deliver his decision on Jan 23 after hearing arguments in chambers by counsel for the state government and the national oil corporation on Tuesday (Jan 14).

The application for Chin to be recused from the proceedings was filed by Petronas.

According to state attorney-general Datuk Talat Mahmood Abdul Rashid, who appeared for the state government, Petronas' argument for Chin's recusal was that his confirmation as a High Court judge might depend on his verdict in the case.

"As he is a judicial commissioner, his confirmation as a judge would depend very much on the Prime Minister's advice.

"So if he were to decide in favour of Petronas then he would probably get his confirmation and if he doesn't, he will not get his confirmation. That's basically their argument," he told reporters after the hearing.

Talat said the state government, however, had no objection to Chin hearing the case.

"We are saying that if (their argument) applies to the judicial commissioner, it should also apply to all the judges, (including) Court of Appeal judges and Federal Court judges, because their promotion depends very much on the advice of the Prime Minister as well.

"So if that's the case, then there would be no judge who would be able to hear the case," he said.

State Cabinet members and Gabungan Parti Sarawak elected representatives and party members were present at the court complex to show their support for the state government's suit.

Sarawak assistant minister for law, state-federal relations and project monitoring Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali said the state government was confident in its case against Petronas.

"I think as far as the law is concerned, we are very strong and we believe we can win this case," she said.

The state sales tax controller and state government filed the suit on Nov 21 last year to recover the unpaid state sales tax due from Petronas.

The 5% tax on petroleum products for export under the State Sales Tax Ordinance 1998 was approved by the Sarawak Legislative Assembly in 2018 and came into effect on Jan 1 last year.

Separately, Petronas has filed a judicial review to quash the notices of assessment for payment of the tax issued by the state government.

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