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‘No approval to operate as a church’

 | August 12, 2011

The land occupied by DUMC in Section 13 is gazetted for industrial use and not for religious purposes, says MBPJ.

PETALING JAYA: The Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) does not have an approval to operate at Dream Centre in Section 13, a Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) official said.

“When DUMC submitted an application for an approval for the building premises, it stated that its purpose was for the use of a community hall,” said MBPJ’s Zainun Zakaria.

“You need to be specfic as to its activities,” she added.

She said that the land that the church stands on now was gazetted for industrial use and not for religious purposes.

Zainun also dismissed a SMS circulating yesterday that the MBPJ was about to seal off the premises, saying it was false.

The SMS was circulated to the media yesterday. A pro-Umno blogger claimed today that he received it from a source in MBPJ.

MBPJ deputy mayor Puasa Mohd Taib also yesterday denied there was such an operation being planned.

When contacted, a church spokesman said that many accusations have been levelled at the church and the current one had “half truths”.

Derek Fernandez, a lawyer and MBPJ councillor, however, said that while a church does not require an operational permit, it nevertheless needs to be registered as one.

“An approval from MBPJ is needed. It is vetted by the sustainable development committee under the planning department. It also has to go through the state executive committee,” said Fernandez.

He added that the sustainable development committee is chaired by the mayor and consists of councillors, technical departments and also external agencies.

Fernandez said that all buildings need a certificate of fitness, proper zoning, land title, besides paying the quit rent.

“But if it is operating as a church, and the letter of approval says, ‘community hall’, it has flouted the Town and Country Planning Act and could be fined. Strictly speaking, the premises could even be sealed off.

“An approval is needed if you want to operate a church in a place zoned as a commercial area,” said Fernandez.

“However, MBPJ has no problem with churches in shoplots as the state recognises the difficulty in finding a place of worship for non-Muslims. They’re usually approved,” he added.

‘Impose a moratorium’

Fellow councillor Mak Khuin Weng said that the local authority usually does not enforce land usage rules strictly.

“Where DUMC is located now, the land titles in that area are for industrial use, meaning for factories only. Having said that, the government has never enforced these land usage rules strictly.

“If we were to be strict, not only will the church suffer but also the commercial areas around Section 14 and Section 19.

“There are food courts and even a college operating on land for industrial use. So, you can’t say you want to take action against DUMC but not against others,” he said.

Mak said that even the numerous bridal studios in SS2 operating from residential houses would also have to be shut down.

The number of places of worship springing up in shoplots and factory areas can be attributed to a larger problem, and one that has been going on since the state was under the BN government.

“For a certain number of houses built in an housing area, a place of worship is to be allocated under the Town Planning Act. But these were never done,” he said.

Mak said that a moratorium should be imposed on all development activities “until we can sort out all this mess”.

Urban planner and International Islamic University of Malaysia professor Alias Abdullah said unlike other places of worship, the government had a plan for the placement of mosques.

“This is because the majority of the population is Malay Muslims and planning for mosques is easier. It’s a tricky problem when it comes to building new churches, as usually no allocation is made for them.

“Christians should come up with their guidelines on quota allocation (for building churches) and submit them to the authority. But what is happening is that shoplots are being used for religious activities without the land being converted for such purposes,” said Alias.

On Aug 3, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) raided the premises of the DUMC where a thanksgiving dinner was held.

JAIS accused the event organiser, Harapan Komuniti, a NGO, of proselytisation when it found 12 Muslims among those present.

Harapan Komuniti has denied the allegation, and the Malaysian AIDS Council said that it was merely a fundraising dinner for the AIDS support group.


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