FMT LETTER: From Suppayah Krishnan, via e-mail
R Siva Nathan’s resignation as the ex-officio secretary of the Hindu Endowments Board, Penang (HEB) only proves that “something is grossly rotten in the state of Denmark”.
My open letters and comments including suggestions on the HEB, and calling for Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to avoid politicians in the composition of the board has fallen on deaf ears.
A government commissioner has never being “forced” out in the history of HEB. The HEB a statutory body manned by non-government servants is being used to protect certain politicians for their continued survival at the expense of Hindu trusts created by our ancestors.
For the last 100 years, a federal officer who hailed as Collector of Land Revenue and later, the District officer had been a commissioner and its ex-officio secretary.
It had been a practice that one or more senior government officers serve on the secretariat for efficient and proper administration of the records and appurtenances of the HEB.
Whereas the HEB is in a horrible state of neglect by the Penang State government for allowing the appointment of contract staff or temporary employees as its executive director and as its assistant secretary to undermine the statutory obligations of the ex-officio secretary.
Flaw in the board’s composition
The HEB Ordinance under section 3 (1) reads “the Governor may appoint a board consisting of three or more commissioners, one of whom at least shall be an officer of the government…and may make rules”
The statutory, executive, and financial powers are only vested in this ex-officio secretary.
My understanding is Siva Nathan was only appointed a commissioner with a term of office of one year via Rule 3 (3) and not as an officer of the government under Section 3 (1) of the HEB Ordinance to constitute the HEB.
Siva Nathan’s appointment for one year term of office makes him an ordinary commissioner under Rule 3 (3) stipulated for other commissioners and so his resignation as an ex-officio secretary under Rule 3 (1) does not arise.
The quorum of any of its meeting shall be three commissioners including such ex-officio secretary and I do not find any reasonable basis for the board to be constituted with more than a dozen commissioners to administer only five poor Hindu endowments when even the state “Cabinet” of Penang has eight members.
Board rules of 1989 avoided
Based on my observations and the weaknesses of the HEB, I had designed the board rules of 1989 in consultation with the state Legal Adviser and the Director of Lands and Mines, Penang (ex-officio secretary) with an objective to open the HEB to more skills and talent by stipulating annual term of office for each commissioner with the exception of the officer of the government.
The rules were then published in the Penang Gazette for the first time. Numerous persons have served and benefited as commissioners resulting from the said rules.
Statutory powers of the ex-officio secretary diffused
The practice of keeping the ex-officio secretary’s fort within the mainstream state department has been abandoned for certain religious zealots who desire to manage the religious affairs of the Hindus through the HEB.
Instead a visiting ex-officio secretary is “shopped” around all over the government service for purposes of intentionally maintaining a weak secretary portfolio for insubordinations.
To further weaken the secretariat, flimsy contract staffs or political cronies having neither civil service experience nor disciplines of government General Orders or trainings are holding the fort to support their political masters while sacrificing good governance and procedures.
The purposes of the HEB Ordinance have therefore been intentionally sidelined by crony contract staffs and supporters of politicians. The HEB chairman prefers to further his political mileage at the expense of this poor charitable HEB.
My two decades of painstaking efforts and risks taken to remove the BN politically based commissioners in 1989 has not rung bells to the DAP chief minister nor his deputy chief minister II.
Perhaps, unscrupulous decisions and actions in his statutory functions, including interferences by his two overzealous subordinates, would have caused government commissioner R Siva Nathan to suddenly resign in protest, speaks volumes.
The writer is a chartered secretary and a former officer of the government. He is also the deputy president of the United Hindu Religious council, Penang.