In a multiracial society like ours, pig abattoir, temples, kuils, surau and masjid are highly sensitive issues. Often, it has to be managed well; otherwise it will be exploited to the fullest by vested interest group. This calls for experience, be sensitive to other races’ needs and managing people’s sensitivity and emotion. This is something that wakil rakyat have to learn the hard way, what we call the school of hard knocks. To an outsider, they may say that we are much ado about nothing. In a clinical manner, some of the pig abattoirs, temples, kuils and surau are no longer in the right place because of development.
Because it is highly sensitive, there is political mileage; hence a lot of political parties would want to champion the cause. Some would want the pig abattoir or the temple/kuil/surau to make way for development. Others would defend it at all costs. For the wakil rakyat where the subject matter is located, it is often a nightmare. Inability to prevent its demolition will signal that the wakil rakyat is politically impotent and has no clout to influence the administration. If the subject matter is prevented from demolition, it will sure boost up the image of the wakil rakyat. When the subject matter becomes highly controversial because of publicity, then it becomes a do and die for the wakil rakyat.
In the early stages of our country’s development, temples, kuils, surau and pig abattoirs were often built without consideration to the local development plan. To be fair, there was then no local development plan. Over a period of time and because of development plus the intermingling of the various races as a result of development, what was once an area dominated by one race suddenly become multiracial. This is when an innocent looking pig abattoir, temple/kuil/surau becomes highly sensitive to the local community.
If we do not allow emotions to be in control, then problem can be resolved in a very professional manner. However, while our country has developed physically, our political system is still stuck with race and religious consideration. What is a straightforward problem becomes one that is delicate and calls for some administrative and political acumen.
Demolition of all these sensitive premises sounds easy. It is finding the alternative location that presents the biggest headache to the power to be, especially at the state level. Because of the publicity generated, residents of the proposed site will invariably oppose. This only serves to complicate the matter. How to persuade residents to accept a new pig abattoir within their vicinity is never an easy problem. When I was an EXCO in Johor for 3 terms, I only had 2 incidents involving pig abattoir. One was successfully demolished since it generated a lot of problems to the surrounding residents because of the noise, pollution and the smell that finally, the abattoir had to go. There was no replacement for the abattoir since there was already a newly built abattoir. In the other incident, I managed to persuade the residents to accept a very old pig abattoir near the vicinity of the housing estate. I am not too sure whether the pig abattoir is still standing.
As for the demolition of temples and relocation, I must give credit to the Johor administration for adopting a fairly liberal attitude to what we call illegal temples and kuils. Most of them are allowed to exist as they have existed years ago. Demolition is hardly done. The Johor administration chooses relocation. In my 5 terms as wakil rakyat in Johor, I have yet to encounter a Chinese temple been demolished because of development. I dealt with 2 cases of kuil, which initially was supposed to be relocated and demolished. Since we are unable to find suitable alternative site, the developer was forced to accept the kuil in-situ and the development plan took into consideration the presence of the kuil. Of course the kuil was downsized since the number of Indians have correspondingly dropped considerably because of the development.
There is always this suspicion that the government is very restrictive in the construction of Chinese temples. It cannot be denied that the construction of new temples or extension of existing temples has to go through a very tedious process of red tape. I must admit that when I was an EXCO in Johor, I failed to address this issue. Often it becomes a fire fighting method of solving problems where by I have to bring the problem directly to the MB or to bring up at the EXCO meeting every Wednesday. Of course I am aware that this is not the best method of resolving issues.
Many years ago, I did a survey with some Chinese NGOs about the distribution of Chinese temples in the district of Batu Pahat. This survey revealed that there are more than 350 temples in Batu Pahat. It came as quite a shock to me. Batu Pahat district then had about 300,000 people of which about 40% are Chinese. This means there are 350 temples serving a Chinese community of 120,000 people. In short, one temple for about 350 people. At least in Batu Pahat district, there are more than adequate temples to serve the needs of the Chinese community.