New complex is to give dignity, independent identity to Unifor to serve Sarawakians

Shankar Ram Asnani

KUCHING, Aug 8: The purpose of setting up the Unit for Other Religions (Unifor) Complex is to give proper dignity and independent identity to this body that serves a larger group of Sarawakians.

To the president of Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Shankar Ram Asnani, ther is nothing wrong for Unifor to be alienated a three-acre land for its building and an allocation of RM70million ringgit to manage the affairs of the many other religions that come under its banner.

Shanker pointed out that actually more funds are needed for the building and repairs of temples, churches and houses of worship throughout Sarawak which are all under Unifor.

“Take for example, the Sarawak Islamic Information Centre at Jalan Ong Tiang Swee sits on prime land of more or less three acres and has an impressive building that costs millions.

“Unifor which is unique, should have its own building and funds to allow those who practice other religions to have their religious functions and events conducted with dignity,” said Shankar in a statement today.

He said this in response to Parti Sarawak Bersatu Youth who issued a statement saying that the Unifor Complex is a waste of money unless it serves other purposes than solely dealing with non-Islamic affairs and charitable trust.

While it admired Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg’s liberal approach for other religions, they however felt that the money for the new complex could be better spent such as to help various churches, Chinese temples and Hindu temples with their renovation and upgrading works.

To Shankar, all Sarawakians should be proud of the setting up of Unifor.

“Recently, it was out in the news that the Federal Minister of National Unity Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sidique had raised with His Majesty the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong about Sarawak’s Unit for Other Religions and how it worked to promote mutual respect between Islam and other religions. Our Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah was even invited to share his vision.

“Our Right Honourable Chief Minister (Datuk Patinggi) Abang Johari (Tun Openg) was certainly right to continue with this legacy of the former Chief Minister Tok Nan (Pehin Sri Adenan Satem) and has been fair in the allocation of a three acre land, not big but of a decent size, for Unifor Complex and sufficient funds RM70 million which is very much needed considering the fact that there are so many other religions practised in Sarawak and they form the majority and deserve proper funding.”

For those who are sincerely interested to know more about Sarawak’s Unifor, Shankar explained that it is a unique creation initiated and established by Adenan Satem, aimed at formulating proactive policies and regulations to promote and spread inter-religious harmony, unity among Sarawakians and to help the other non-Islamic faiths in Sarawak.

He said the unit which was established on April 27, 2017, is a new unit in the Chief Minister’s Department under the portfolio of Uggah who has firm plans to see that Unifor be elevated into a full independent body or department within the Sarawak government. 

“This will then allow for Unifor to be allocated funds directly from the Sarawak Treasury, which is a right all subjects of Sarawak must equally enjoy,” said Shankar who is a senior lawyer.

He further pointed out that Sarawak is the only Government in Malaysia that has such a body created to advance and/or to propagate the rights and interests of all the other non-Islamic faiths and which is in line with the spirit and intendment of Article 8 read with Articles 11(1), (2) and (3) of the Federal Constitution that guarantees the equal right to profess and practice one’s religion, to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes, etc. 

Based on such fundamental rights already entrenched in the Federal Constitution, Shankar said it is fair and proper for the Sarawak Government to allocate land and funds for Unifor, which Abang Johari rightly did.

“The federal government has in the past allocated billions of ringgit to JAKIM (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) to advance Islam. Other religions practised throughout Malaysia should not be ignored and should also get proportionate allocation as part of the freedom of religion guaranteed.

“Even the Pakatan Harapan government for 2019 budget had allocated a whopping RM1.2 Billion Ringgit to JAKIM for Islamic development. There is no reason for one to speak adversely against Unifor,” said Shankar. — DayakDaily.