Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Excellent article by CityNadez on Khir Toyo - TheSun Newspaper

Check out this article by Citizen Nades where he writes about Khir Toyo's hypocricy, RM2 million flower contracts, the infamous Istana Z and about four teenagers receiving alienated land in the fully-developed state of Selangor. Here!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Hindu temples hit by 'cabinet ban'

Source : Malaysiakini

K Kabilan Apr 7, 08 12:02pm

Devotees of the Hanuman temple in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, have eagerly been anticipating a spanking new structure by year’s end. Construction work by specialist builders from India have been progressing smoothly, with about 40 percent of work completed on schedule to date.

But temple officials now foresee problems in completing the work as the immigration department has refused to extend the work-permits of the builders.

Worse, the department has given the workers one month to leave the country, and has refused to entertain applications to bring in new workers. “We are stuck. The temple is only half-built. If these workers go, who will finish the work?” asked temple treasurer M Suresh. “The department wants us to hire local workers. What they don’t realise, or choose to ignore, is that not everyone can build temples. You need skilled and specialist workers.”

He has another problem - what to tell the devotees who have donated huge sums of money for the temple construction.

This is not an isolated case. Across the nation, many Hindu temples face same problems with the immigration department refusing to renew work permits of builders, priests and musicians. Its reason is that locals can be hired to do these jobs, a claim that many temple officials reject.

Temple builder P Malairaju said about 10 of his projects are stuck as a result of this new policy.
“When we apply to bring in expert builders, we submit a huge dossier involving the work schedule and the need for these workers. Only after going through these documents, would the department approve a permit. “Each worker is given an initial six-month permit which can be renewed for up to five years. However now, at the end of the six months, these workers are being told to pack up and leave,” he told Malaysiakini.

He said the decision can be appealed and an extension could be granted for up to three months, but not in all cases.

He said that he has about nine expert workers at the Hanuman temple and about 90 more working at temples in other locations. “When we asked the department why the renewal applications have been rejected, we were merely told to hire locals. Why can’t they refer to our dossiers and see for themselves why we brought in these workers in the first place?

He added that local workers still lacked the necessary skills to build temples and its intrinsic works.

“This is not like building an apartment or a building. You need to know the work,” he added.
He also said that the department has also refused to entertain new applications to bring in workers to continue the stalled projects. “What is going to happen is that there will be half-built temples all around the country. I pity the temple officials who have to face the wrath of devotees,” he said. Suresh agreed, saying that even now some of the devotee at the Hanuman temple were blaming the temple officials for “siphoning off the donation and slowing down the temple construction”.

Other temples have been caught by the denial of renewed work permits for priests from India, thus forcing prayers and weddings to be conducted without priests.

The Sri Ayyanar Temple in Jalan Genting Klang is among those in this quandary. Its priest and a musician have been told to leave soon. “How do we find replacements? Local priests are not interested in working full time. We don’t have enough qualified musicians as well. And this temple is fully booked for the coming wedding season,” said temple secretary A Gothandapaandi.
Similarly the Sri Subramaniam temple in Bandar Sunway is facing difficulty after its musicians were told to leave and applications for new musicians and priests were rejected.

“We are stuck. I fear for the future. We don’t have enough local priests or musicians. The government should have some sense in this matter,” said temple chairperson R Manivasagam.
Officials in other temple committees urged the government to end the ‘ban’.

Is there an unwritten code to stop the growth of Hindu temples in this country?” asked a temple secretary from Ipoh. Sri Sivan temple secretary V Palani from Klang said: “Trained local musicians and priests prefer to work on freelance basis so that they can earn more. Temples need full time musicians and priests so that we can serve the needs of our devotees at all times.”

When contacted, an immigration official said this is a cabinet-level decision and that all questions should be directed to the home ministry.

Last week MIC president S Samy Vellu raised the matter with the minister concerned, Syed Hamid Albar, who said the matter would be discussed in the cabinet before a decision is made.
Malaysia Hindu Sangam is also worried about the trend and has asked the government to revoke the cabinet decision, which was made late last year.

Hindu Sangam president A Vaithilingam said that the affected temples were all big, popular and registered temples. “This sudden decision has caused a lot of unhappiness and had damaged the operations of especially larger temples,” he said. “We feel that the decision is very unfair especially when considering that there are two million foreign workers in the country, whereas the requirement of the temples for a few hundred foreign skilled workers is not being entertained,” he added.

He also said that it takes many years to train highly-skilled priests and temple musicians.
“Unfortunately, the temples are not able to find locals with suitably high qualifications and skills to work for the pay that the temples can afford,” he said. Vaithilingam also said the Hindu Sangam is making efforts to meet Syed Hamid to resolve this problem.

This issue first cropped up last December when then minister in charge of foreign workers Radzi Sheikh Ahmad said that there is no ban on foreign workers - including priests, musicians and sculptors - from India. He insisted that no applications from Indian priests, musicians or sculptors had been rejected, but admitted the government is trying to reduce foreign labour.

"Our policy is that we want locals to take up the jobs as priests, musicians and sculptors," he was reported as saying.

Temple officials, however, say that based on what’s happening now, it is clear that there is indeed a ban in place.

Monday, April 07, 2008


Sunday, 06 April 2008 08:39am

©New Sunday Times (Used by permission)by Roger Tan in a multi-religious country like ours, religion is one issue which always invokes and provokes strong passions and reactions if not handled carefully.

In the last general election, many non-Muslims turned away from Barisan Nasional and voted for the opposition.

In some cases, church leaders even openly encouraged their Christian congregations to vote for Pas - something hitherto unthinkable, especially when Pas has always been advocating the establishment of an Islamic state.But why had non-Muslims voted for the opposition so resoundingly this time?The reason is obvious. The non-Muslims' gravamens are essentially these:

• the authorities were trigger-happy in demolishing illegal places of worship.

• the government's inaction, especially by the non-Muslim component parties in BN, in resolving the conflicts of civil law and syariah arising out of Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution. The problem is compounded when non-Muslims could more or less predict the outcome of the decisions of civil courts whenever a remedy was sought there.

• religious polarisation caused by the rivalry between Umno and Pas, each wanting to outdo the other in being more Islamic.

• non-Muslims find it increasingly difficult to build their places of worship.

Of these, I would only like to deal with the last grievance.

Article 3 of the Federal Constitution declares that non-Muslims are entitled to practise their religions in peace and harmony while Islam is the religion of the federation.

This is reinforced by Article 11(1) which provides that every non-Muslim has the right to profess and practise his religion. Article 11(3) also states that every religious group has the right, inter alia, to establish and maintain institutions for religious purposes and to acquire and own property and hold and administer it in accordance with law.

Sadly, in practice, this is not the case. The time taken to obtain approvals to build non-Muslim places of worship is incredibly long. In almost every case, it takes years.

The application and approval process is most cumbersome. For a start, it is almost unheard of that state governments would alienate lands for erection of non-Muslim places of worship. Hence, the lands involved are usually private lands and so before it could be used for religious purposes, the land has to be first converted for religious use. So an application will have to be made to the state authority (which is the state executive council), and it will be processed by the land office.

However, because it involves the erection of non-Muslim places of worship, most states require the matter to be first referred to a district security committee. At the district security committee level, the district office will have to obtain comments from various government departments, including the police.

The least palatable aspect of it all is that views from the Religious Affairs Department will also be sought.

Even if the district security committee approves it, the matter would still have to be referred to the state security committee, which is chaired by either the chief minister or state secretary.

In most cases, the process of obtaining comments from the various government departments is repeated.

If the state security committee okays it, it does not mean the application has been approved. It then goes to another committee chaired by the state executive councillor in charge of land matters, a position usually held by the chief minister.If the committee approves it, the state executive council has to give its final approval.

As the process takes such a long time, it is no surprise that along the way, the file is either misplaced or goes missing. In addition, sometimes there is a delay in submitting the papers for deliberation by some over-zealous junior government officers, who are mono-religious and feel that it is against their religion to support it.

The story does not end there even when the land has been converted for religious use. The next thing is to put up the building.To do that, an application will now have to be submitted to the local authority for approval of the building plans.But because it involves a non-Muslim place of worship, the process of going through the district and state security committees has to be repeated.

Even if the final approval is obtained, it still takes a few years for the building to come up. The reason being the costs of financing the construction and completion of these places of worship have to be privately raised and borne. All in all, it is not uncommon for at least 10 years to pass by the time a project comes to fruition.It follows that because the approval process is so difficult, it is no wonder illegal places of worship mushroom here and there.What is most insulting to them is the erection of their places of worship is viewed as a security threat.

Often, it has to be referred to a security committee whose composition includes representatives from the Religious Affairs Department.On the other hand, the erection of mosques is efficiently co-ordinated by one body - the state Muslim Council (Majlis Agama Islam).Land is easily made available and whenever a new housing development is completed, a place will be reserved for the construction of either a mosque or surau. Financing its construction is not a problem either.

Some two years ago, I suggested in this column ("Religious freedom the keystone" - NST, Jan 8, 2006) that each state government should set up a non-Muslim religious department to look into the religious issues affecting non-Muslims and to co-ordinate applications and funding for non-Muslim places of worship.I repeat this call and it is hoped that all state governments, whether under BN or Pakatan Rakyat, will consider this.

I am confident that any step taken to expedite the approval process and provide funding for non-Muslim places of worship will, in turn, expedite the healing process among these Malaysians who certainly feel aggrieved by this course of events.

By allowing them to freely and easily exercise their constitutional right to establish their religious sanctuaries will go a long way towards winning their hearts and minds.

In this respect, the Selangor government's decision to waive quit rent and assessment rates for all registered places of worship and schools in the state is laudable.

They now only need to pay a token annual fee of RM1.Likewise, the statement from the Pahang state secretary that it will now adopt a more liberal approach to matters concerning religion and places of worship is most welcome.

Similarly, the prime minister has pledged to improve the situation.But the most assuring of all came from the Sultan of Selangor, who said that although he is the head of Islam in Selangor, he will not hesitate to take action against any extremists and that it is important to ensure that religious freedom is defended by all.

It is hoped that everyone, be he a leader of BN or Pakatan, a Muslim or otherwise, will now take heed of the voice of the people expressed in the last general election.It is hoped, too, that politicians will be often reminded by what the regent of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah said exactly a year ago at the Young Malaysians' Roundtable Discussion on National Unity and Development in Malaysia that Malaysia belongs to all Malaysians equally, and all have an equal right and responsibility to take ownership of their country and its future.

He added that the sine qua non of building a strong nation is when its citizens feel a sense of belonging and a common destiny and in our case, when Malaysians of all races, religions and origins are bound together in a common purpose.Therefore, history has always shown that suppression of a person's inherent right to freedom of religion is a recipe for disaster.

Consonantly, our leaders have also much to learn from the fair and just Muslim ruler in Sultan Abu Bakar, who ruled the state of Johor from 1886 to 1895.Though a Muslim, he was much loved by his non-Muslim subjects. Hailed as the Father of Modern Johor, he granted many plots of land for the erection of churches and temples throughout Johor.

The best testimony of his sense of fairness and justice is reflected in the Johor constitution promulgated during his reign, wherein it still contains an article proclaiming as follows:

"All the laws and customs of the country shall be carried out and exercised with justice and fairness by all the Courts of Justice and all Officers and Servants of the State between all the people of the country and the aliens who sojourn and reside under its protection, whether for a season or for a lengthened period, that is to say, without their entertaining in the least degree more sympathy or regard to partiality towards those who profess the religion of the country, namely the Muslim religion, or making any difference between those who are the subjects of the State and those who are not.

"Let us all Malaysians join hands as one people respecting each other's right to practise his religion in peace and harmony.Let us take pride rather than cringe with shame if this country is filled not only with mosques but also churches and temples.

If it is so, it is only because Malaysia is truly Asia.

May God bless us all.

*The writer is a member of the Malaysian Bar Council.