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Flaw in composition of Hindu Endowments Board

May 18, 2012

FMT LETTER: From Suppayah Krishnan, via e-mail

The Sun article of May 15 titled, ‘HEB disputes casts shadow over DAP’ carried the line up of 14 new commissioners, leaving out the mandatory requirement of an officer of the government that constitutes the legality of the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB).

The HEB Ordinance Chapter 175 under section 3 (1) stipulates that: “The Governor may appoint a board consisting of three or more commissioners, one of whom at least shall be an officer of the government for the administration, management and superintendence of endowments”

The statute provides for the designation of the holder and not the personal name. This law constitutes the board and its quorum should be three commissioners including the ex-officio secretary who is a government officer. He only has the power to collect and expend its fund.

Since Jan 1, 1906, the Collector of Land Revenue Office, Director of Lands and Mines and Principal Assistant State Secretary had been appointed by their posts and not by their personal names and such officers had been the centre for all purposes of the HEB.

Currently the said “officer” candidate has being “shopped” around and is appointed on yearly basis and that too in his personal name like any other commissioner and not in his official designation as a government officer, thereby ignoring HEB Ordinance Section 3 (1) and Board Rules 3 (1) of 1989 which reads:

“An officer of the government as may be appointed by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri, Pulau Pinang shall be a commissioner and ex-officio Secretary of the Board.”

The Board Rules Pg. P.U.2 gazetted on March 16, 1989 under Rule 3 (3) stipulates a one year term of service to all other commissioners and not for the ex-officio secretary.

The term of service had been included in the Board Rules as the Governor has the discretion pursuant to its Ordinance under Section 3 (2) for the removal of any commissioner at his pleasure periodically when any commissioner becomes unsuitable or otherwise he affects the proper functions of the HEB. MIC party politicking that affected and haunted the HEB was eliminated then.

To aggravate its weaknesses its chairman, Dr Ramasamy has introduced an expensive executive director and several contract workers not being civil servants to perform the statutory functions to substitute the office of the ex-officio secretary of the board pursuant to Rule 3 (1).

Doing thus, the executive director has become the alter ego for the ex-officio secretary who is not stationed in the board’s secretariat as in the past and the latter has become a messenger boy or a visiting agent performing selective statutory functions dictated by his political masters in the HEB.

The control has been shifted to make the chairman’s political landscape while depriving the HEB of its legitimate power to administer the Hindu endowments.

Since my retirement in 1993 from the government service after 23 years, this statutory power in the secretary had been diffused by political considerations and had been on a mobile trip all over the government service each year, and that too at the fate of the political masters starting from the time of the late PK Subbaiyah being a member in state exco, who took over as its chairman.

Based on my experience and knowledge I am of the view that the board is not legally constituted since the statutory provision of an officer of the government has not been made within the meaning of Section 3 (1) of the HEB Ordinance and the Board Rules 3 (1) for ex-officio secretary.

Mandatory roles ignored

The HEB possess administrative and judicial powers similar to that of a court or a tribunal to oversee, inspect and examine under oath any person managing activities in Hindu trust without getting embroiled in its religious affairs.

HEB only administers 4 Hindu endowments, 2 burial grounds and a small endowment given for after-death ceremonial rites situated at the end of Dato’ Kramat Road, Penang last 10 decades and no other mismanaged Hindu trusts had been added.

Why do we need if not for political reasons a large “tribunal” of 14 commissioners?  In the past 100 years we had District officers as ex-officio secretaries to carry out statutory needs of the HEB.

It appears since the take over from BN appointees in 2008 certain Penang DAP leadership’s only concern was to “manage” Thaipusam, Chitraparuvam and fire-walking festivals to enhance their selfish political landscape at the disadvantage of the HEB.

It only proves lack of interest, lack of skills and lack of CAT principles by the current leadership.

Restore its stability

I have rendered numerous letters in the media since 2008 for better administration and stability of the HEB, and it appears that the Penang Pakatan government is irresponsive to independent, non-political ideas and suggestions.  However, as a former government officer in the HEB, I wish to forward the following:

  • To revert to the earlier practice of appointing an officer of the government (by post) within the mainstream departments of either District office, Land and Mines or State Secretariat, who could directly advice and report to the exco periodically via State Secretary as the current practice of shopping for a Hindu officer all over the service has in fact contributed to its numerous weaknesses of the HEB;
  • To procure for a permanent government officer to deputise as its assistant secretary for continuity and efficient control and management of its secretariat since the HEB manages large sums of monies, valuables, precious items and government records in line with the principles of public accountability;
  • A member of the State exco should not be a Chairman of the HEB as political onslaughts and attacks from political parties may pose conflict of interests including jeopardising principles of natural of justice;
  • The administrative and management roles within its secretariat should be reviewed to avoid politically based supporters sitting just to warm their seats and be paid exorbitantly to keep a political vision alive instead of its actual functions; and
  • To solicit from the Public Services Department for a permanent government officer to be the Secretary of the HEB as other public agencies.

In fact the British government had been very gracious and generous in their heart to establish such a benevolent body for the administration of trusts belonged to the Muslim and Hindu community.

In trying to be adventurers with their new found powers to administer, the Penang DAP leaderships have plugged their ears and eyes against procedures and good governance of the HEB which I believe would be bring irreparable consequences to the future of the HEB.

The Penang government should treasure this legacy and be exemplary as its Singapore counterpart for good governance of HEB in line with its own CAT principles and they should have some sense of gratitude towards those persons who had safeguarded the HEB from the  DAP’s constant calls and onslaughts before 2008 that could have destroyed the Hindu legacy while under the BN.

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


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