Temples in quandry over cabinet ban

April 7th, 2008 by poobalan | View blog reactions Leave a reply »
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I had a feeling that when Syed Radzi said the application will be approved based on “case by case” basis, its basically a ban. He denied that such a ban exists. The problem started after an announcement in early January stating that there is a ban since 31st December 2007. There were some confusion which even Samy Vellu did not escape. He announced the ban, in INDIA, and later retracted it. The ban was for foreign workers (excluding expatriates) in general from India and Bangladesh. MHS highlighted that the blanket ban would affect the temple-related workers as well.

MHS said they will help to solve this problem, while the PM said that he will “look into it” when informed that MCCBCHST had sent in an appeal. I guess he is still looking for the appeal.

The temples and MHS should have some plans in place to train locals to be skilled in such areas, but as the article says, the locals may prefer to work part-time in these jobs, thus not attached to any one temple.

The ministry should also consider that these are highly skilled jobs and a longer period should be given to train locals. 6 months is definitely not enough. Perhaps a five-year time frame should have been implemented. Unless of course, MIC already knew about this impending ban and did not do anything about it. But wait a minute, wasn’t Samy Vellu in the cabinet in January? And he did not oppose this ban or asked to exclude temple-related workers?

Hindu temples hit by ‘cabinet ban’

http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/80979

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.

Half-built temples

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”.

‘We are stuck’

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.

Back to cabinet

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.

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