The sacking of Tun Salleh Abas from his position as the Lord President in 1988 left a lasting impact on me, and the book he wrote on it, “May Day for Justice”, which is a real magnum opus, has also been a great influence on me.
And I can still vividly remember of a very youthful me passionately reading “May Day for Justice”, while taking care of my late father who was hospitalised at HUSM Kubang Kerian, when I first got hold of it.
Imagine when, on 17 April 2008, I, who was roped in to help the then Minister of Law with his judicial reform, was in a same place as Tun Salleh, besides Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin and Datuk George Seah.
In his speech at the event, The Malaysian Bar Council Dinner, held at JW Marriott Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the then Prime Minister, announced his commitment for judicial reform.
To begin a new chapter for the Malaysian judiciary, Tun Abdullah announced, the Government had decided to make goodwill ex gratia payments to Tun Salleh and his five friends, those sacked and suspended judges.
Following that, I personally met Tun Salleh at the Petaling Jaya Hilton Hotel on 7 May 2008 to discuss about the payment in which he told me that he would have problem accepting it if certain conditions were not to be fulfilled.
Tun Salleh insisted on getting an apology from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad but, because it was not possible, a Commission of Inquiry needed to be established to ascertain the legality of his and his friends’ sacking and suspension.
Tun Salleh also revealed to me that he had an evidence which he had never tendered if the government needed new evidence before the case could be re-opened, but that he would deliberate on it for fear of hurting people’s feeling.
True to his promise that he would talk to his lawyer first before making any final decision on the payment, a hard-hitting letter from Tun Salleh’s lawyer, Tommy Thomas, soon reached the then Minister of Law’s office.
The then Minister of Law was very furious with the content of the letter, and instructed all his aides to no longer talk about the payment with anyone, telling us how embarrassed he was that he had to beg Tun Abdullah for it.
However, without the then Minister of Law’s knowledge, I still talked to Tun Salleh about the payment, persuading him to just accept it as it was, which he eventually agreed, resulting on the payment being made on 20 June 2008.
(Tun Salleh was given RM5 million; Datuk George and Tan Sri Wan Suleiman Pawan Teh were given RM2 million; Tan Sri Azmi, Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohd Salleh and Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader were given RM500,000).
Until today I, and many others, can still feel the pain, the suffering, the humiliation, the degradation and the loss of income that Tun Salleh had to endure in his life as a result of this sacking, done while he was at the peak of his career.
Tun Salleh’s sacking will always be entrenched in my mind as one of the clearest symbols of the tyrannical rule of Tun Dr Mahathir. I am glad that I got to know Tun Salleh and did manage to contribute to him in my own little way.
By: Dr Kamarul Zaman Yusoff.