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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Come clean on Mazu statue, former CM tells Musa


Former Sabah chief minister Chong Kah Kiat wants the state government to be honest about why it is preventing the Mazu statue from being built at its present site on private land at the Kudat waterfront.

He said Chief Minister Musa Aman and the Attorney-General should be brave enough to go to court to convince the judge that the grounds they used to halt the Goddess of the Sea statue project and the subsequent cancellation of the approval granted earlier are sustainable in law.

He added that Musa's renewed offer to relocate the statue is merely an effort to play to the gallery. Musa made the offer to relocate the statue after the Federal Court threw out Chong's appeal for the case to proceed despite a technicality earlier this week.

"The non-registration of the Kudat Thean Hou Charitable Foundation as a society has never been the grounds to withdraw and cancel the approval that was granted by the Kudat town board," he said. Chong is the chairman of the foundation.

Chong, when he was deputy chief minister holding the tourism, culture and environment portfolio, wanted to construct a Mazu statue next to the Kudat golf course. This was opposed by the state government on the basis that it was too near the town mosque.

He filed a suit but lost when the state government appealed a High Court ruling and the Court of Appeal struck out his case on a technicality that his foundation was not registered.

On Monday, a unanimous decision by a five-man Federal Court bench dismissed a leave application by Chong to appeal the Court of Appeal decision.

Judge Alauddin Mohd Sheriff, who dismissed the leave application, did not give any reason for the dismissal and ordered Chong to pay RM100,000 in costs to four respondents, including Musa.

Chong contends that Musa had acted mala fide and/or in abuse of his power as the chief minister and/or ultra vires the Local Government Ordinance and the Town and Country Planning Ordinance when he decided to cancel the project.

'Statue will be erected one day'

He also said that a fatwa by the state mufti on July 7, 2006 against the construction of the statute was unconstitutional as it infringes upon Article 11 of the Federal Constitution and that the letter of approval by the Kudat town board was valid.

The former chief minister contends that the town board’s withdrawal of the letter of approval through another letter dated Nov 15, 2007, is null and void.
Chong did not immediately seek to remedy the matter in court but instead tried to reason with Musa when the statue became an issue.

He said that he was told that “Sabah Umno has objected to the statue project”, but subsequently found this to be untrue, along with the claim that the state Cabinet had discussed the project.

Musa was informed that the project was a private one, on private land, funded by private donation and properly approved by the local authorities, Chong said at the time.

During the High Court hearing last year, Chong testified that he had told Musa that as chief minister and Sabah Umno head, he should have told whoever in Umno had objected to the statue project that they had no right to interfere in a private project.

Chong said his relationship with Musa had begun to sour at the beginning of 2005 because he started to query him (Musa) on several contracts and projects under his (Chong’s) purview as state minister of tourism, culture and environment.

On the contention that the Mazu statue was too close to the Asy-Syakirin mosque, Chong said it was more than 200 metres away from the mosque. Although it would not face the mosque, it would have been parallel to kiblat – the direction of Mecca – and thus would not have been a source of obstruction.

He also said that at the time public order and security had never been threatened at any time because of the project.

“We pride ourselves as a multiracial, multi-cultural and multi-religious country. For example, the oldest mosque in Kudat (Kampung Air Mosque) is located next to the Kudat Chinese temple, less than 100m away. We have never had any problems for the last 50 years,” he told the court then.

Chong also dismissed the claim that the project could not proceed because it breached the land-use conditions stipulated in the title.

The title was changed from industrial to tourism use and that the district surveyor had given permission to the foundation in a letter dated Jan 24, 2005 to proceed with the project.

The issue became so fractious and even threatened the cohesiveness of the Barisan Nasional that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak (then Deputy Prime Minister) stepped in to appeal for an out-of- court settlement.

Chong still believes that despite the end of his legal battle, the Mazu statue will be erected one day

courtesy of FMT

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