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Only Penang exco decides on HEB commissioners

April 9, 2012

FMT LETTER: From Suppayah Krishnan, via e-mail

Baradan Kuppusamy’s article, ‘Troubles far from over’ in the Star on April 5, and the March 31 demonstration by a small group against Lim Guan Eng and Karpal Singh dragging the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) as a dragnet for the lobbying of ‘seats’ for the 13th General Election.

Perhaps leadership animosity within DAP politicians for purposes of such lobby would lead towards disunity among the DAP Indians within the Pakatan government at the expense of HEB and a power scramble seems inevitable in its premises among DAP Indian politicians.

The demonstrators demanded that any removal of the three controversial commissioners of the HEB by the state exco headed by the Chief Minister must be consented to by the Governor.

Many are aware that the Governor in the HEB Ordinance (now a Federal law) reflected the supreme head of the Straits Settlement States. The powers had been transferred to the Governor-in-council, meaning the state exco via an instrument of delegation powers in 1948.

Therefore executive function of the Governor is vested with the state exco and all such powers in respect of appointment and removal of any commissioner of HEB and other statutory bodies under the state are vested in the state exco.
Oath taking procedure for members of HEB before the said Governor has not been provided for in the said Ordinance. A gazette notification on the dismissal and appointments will be sufficient.

I am of the opinion that no one could intimidate the prerogatives of the Penang EXCO unless the latter in its wisdom decides otherwise.

To my mind, the demonstrators from the NGOs and political supporters are ill-informed while they do not represent the entire Hindu community instead are only handful political supporters fighting a political battle for the affected three commissioners aligned to Dr Ramasamy who is currently fighting his own political survival within the DAP.

In reality, those supporters are merely political visionaries playing a political stunt opposing the DAP chairman, Karpal Singh as they are facing effects of a political downturn. It would be more appropriate and ethical that they should use other avenues instead the HEB as their platforms. Similar political stunts had been played by the MIC leaderships during my office in each time an NGO voiced its displeasure.

In the same breath, perhaps a certain MC Pitchay currently turned supporter of Dr Ramasmy had earlier made adverse remarks against the DAP leaderships including Dr Ramasamy at our Hindu Action Network (HAN) and United Hindu Religious Council (UHRC) meetings held to voice our disagreement when Penang Indian DAP assemblymen gate crashed to become commissioners of HEB.

UHRC’s stand from its inception since early 1980s had always been “No politicians in the composition of HEB”.
At our Hindu Endowments Board’s Public Forum aimed at explaining the status and functions of the HEB, held in August, 2008 at Mariamman Hall, Mengkuang Road a certain Satish claiming to be a personal assistant to Dr Ramasamy and several DAP supporters had obstructed our proceedings and were rude to the speakers with a view to disrupt the said forum which was officiated by Chief Minister’s representative, Phee Boon Poh.

Regulatory provisions and ideals sidelined for politics

To add further to its disadvantage the HEB currently has no permanent key role officer of the government directly accountable to the State Secretary as in the past.

A few contract officers and an assistant secretary, who are not civil servants with relevant skills and training of civil service manning its administration and statutory functions, are being hand picked by the current political masters. I can only conclude that it has become joke as it only reflects insincerity and incorrigibility by certain lawmakers towards the noble objectives of the regulatory statutory authority that is accountable to Parliament.

The services of a Commissioner of Lands and Mines, Penang who has powers of magistrate to administer the regulatory provisions of HEB as its ex-officio secretary had been removed to make way for a part time government officer who currently hails from Butterworth customs department. The HEB’s regulatory procedures and provisions have instead been diffused and HEB is thus erroneously claimed by political zealots to oversee religious affairs of the Hindus.

In my opinion these sloppy administrative procedures have been “re-engineered” to suit its political masters and not for the ideals and purposes for which the HEB had been established. The counter attacks by two groups of politicians within the HEB against one and another is mainly on its financial management and not related to its basic statutory functions; only means that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” in particular related to its fund’s operation.

HEB burdened financially by unskilled ‘passengers’

The HEB will lose lots of its fund raised from charities and alms as a result of such inferior administrative procedures at the hands of its political masters who do not have the relevant skills and administrative knowledge for proper financial accountability and its overall administration.

During my term of office, the HEB had only expended a small monthly sum of not more than RM5,000 being cost for its proper administration and able manpower from the civil service to man its overall secretariat for the workload of managing the same five Hindu endowments. No commissioner other than the ex-officio secretary had been paid an allowance though the rule provides.

The irony is that the HEB has not developed its land bank nor had expended its stable of new Hindu endowments or taken steps to investigate and report back to the Governor under Section 4 or the HEB ordinance on the hundreds of Hindu endowments in the state Penang for fear of bad name and unpopularity. The expensive cost of management of its secretariat does not seem justifiable either.

In the past we did not have “gatecrashers” to become commissioners as the said provisions of the Ordinance did not seem attractive to many politicians for their political objectives.
Perhaps the pledge by Lim Guan Eng to grant RM1 million during Thaipusam Festival to the HEB should justify its cause and effect laws of karma or otherwise he too would be contributing to creating a mess of the HEB by certain unscrupulous DAP politicians.

From my experience, the HEB if not salvaged sooner, is doomed to be disadvantaged and shall loose its efficiency and independence while the politicians making a mess in the HEB will get away without any scratches.

Educational assistance and beneficial student programmes

The HEB should only administer Hindu endowments which include Sikh endowment within the meaning of the HEB Ordinance, Chapter 175 and is not a scholarship or fund provider to students. However, the HEB can only administer any endowment created for purposes of a school or other beneficial purposes and such endowment if named as “Education Fund” should be first vested in the HEB via Section 4 of the HEB Ordinance.

Long before in 1967, HEB had created an Education Fund (EF) comprising donations collected from tenants of the HEB each time there was a change in tenancy and the HEB sometimes later decided to levy a certain percentage from the incomes of the endowments towards EF.

Pursuant to the Ordinance, the above decision was not accepted by the Auditor General and as a result of which the fund was shelved and placed under the HEB’s office fund for which I had even obtained a legal advice from the State Legal Advisers Chambers.

The late Tun Dr Chong Eu in his wisdom had accepted my revamp proposals and Board Rules in 1989 and MIC politicians were immediately dropped for their personal political ambitions as the HEB could not function smoothly.
Formal provisions for Education Fund along with other issues were included in new Board Rules of 1989 which were then gazetted for legal and proper operation.

The whole procedure on the above was done without the knowledge of the MIC state leaderships for fear that my recommendations would face rejection by EXCO as had occurred in previous three occasions in 1978, 1982 and 1986.
These episodes did not bring any advantage to me personally as many viewed instead drastically affected my personal life and very badly as an officer of the government till I retired early in 1993.

Many candidates that I brought into the HEB environment as commissioners and members of the management committees of endowments mostly benefited by state recognitions and awards including becoming an elected assemblyman who later became its chairman, remains a legacy or a testimony of my efforts.

Acknowledging Dr Ramasamy alone to have provided educational programmes or schemes for Indian students has actually overlapped my efforts in getting the procedures for such fund to be formerly gazetted in 1989 long before his arrival to the HEB in 2009/2010 is yet to be reckoned or recognised.

Such claim by his supporters is actually aimed at promoting the survival of their candidacies than a service to the Hindu community and two sides within the DAP politics are currently seen going over one another for control of HEB only proves of their selfish political battles and survivals.

I am glad to narrate of a situation sometimes in 1986 of the late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu when he advised T Subbiah, the HEB chairman to relinquish either the exco membership or the HEB chairmanship and not to hold both the portfolios simultaneously for the good of HEB.

Such exemplary and brave acts seldom shine in the ordinary but only in a great statesman and that too amidst the BN government where a fate of a MIC component state leader had to be sacrificed for the good of the rakyat and in this case Dr Ramasamy should unselfishly give way to able professionals and non-political people to serve than cling to it as did MIC.

The writer, a Chartered Secretary, is a Deputy President of the United Hindu Religious Council, Penang and was a former officer of the government serving the HEB for 23 years.


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