Our government exists because we need them to enforce laws. After all, in a society made up of millions of individuals, there are bound to be disputes and disagreements.
And to resolve these disagreements, the government need only to look at existing laws to see if the matter can be resolved, and if not, it becomes incumbent on the elected representative to propose or amend the law in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
Recently, a group of disabled persons protested outside the Bukit Gasing Sivan Temple as they have been barred from entering and worshipping at the temple.
Rather than attempting to resolve the dispute, both the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) and Bukit Gasing assemblyman Rajiv Rishyakaran have distanced themselves from the issue.
At the April 30 full board meeting, Petaling Jaya mayor Datin Paduka Alinah Ahmad said MBPJ could not interfere in the dispute because the building was illegal while Rajiv said on his Facebook page, “I feel that in the bigger picture, it is not wise to ask for the government to intervene (in) religious rules or decisions.
“I feel it is the right of those professing that faith to dialogue, discuss and demand. But do we really want the government to start commenting and enforcing rules that interpret our various faiths?”
Despite his well-meaning intentions, both the council and Rajiv failed in their respective duties to uphold the law. Firstly, the development of any structure comes under the purview of the local council as officers need to scrutinise and ensure buildings comply with the Uniform Building Bylaw (UBBL) requirements.
One of those requirements reads as follows: “Any building or part thereof to which this by-law applies shall be approved with access to enable disabled persons to get into, out of and within the building for which access is provided wholly or mainly for the inspection, maintenance or repair of the building, its services or fixed plant or machinery; and be designed with facilities for use by disabled persons.”
Coming back to the Sivan Temple case, it is an illegal structure because it was built on a forest reserve.
It has no land title and did not submit any building plans to MBPJ (the temple committee could not have submitted the plans anyway since they are not the landowners).
Since the temple has no land title, the law requires the entire temple to be demolished, but such action cannot be taken because the Selangor government put a freeze on the demolition of any religious buildings after severe political backlash from the Hindu community over the demolition of several temples.
So the law cannot be enforced because of religious sensitivities; but did the government not allow this problem to start when the temple was set up illegally in the first place?
And the government is notorious for overlooking legal requirements when approving development projects. Take for instance the proposed new development in Section 17, Petaling Jaya on the former Sentosa Cinema site.
The project consists of two blocks of apartments that are 18 and 19 storeys high and situated on a piece of land slightly under two acres in size with a portion of the project taking up part of the road reserve of Jalan 17/27 where the wet market presently operates.
Now, I have highlighted that it is illegal for developers to apply to build on publicly-gazetted roads because these are simply not part of the developer’s property and that rejection should have been automatic as per the Town and Country Planning Act.
Be that as it may, one of the market traders told me that the project on the road was supposedly a multi-storey structure to house the market traders and that the traders are all agreeable to it after looking at the proposed plans.
So who is the owner of this building and who has the land title (how do you even get a land title for a road reserve)? Who maintains the cleanliness and repairs for the building? What about defects in the building, who would be responsible for the defect liability period? Will this be under MBPJ’s responsibility or the developer’s?
Does this building have lift facilities to enable the disabled to access the building? If it does have lifts, who maintains it? If it does not, should the project not be allowed to proceed?
These were questions the trader could not answer because the information was not provided to him or to any of the other traders.
Hypothetically speaking, should this project be allowed to proceed and we find out that the disabled do not have access to the building; would the authorities decline to intervene just like in the Sivan Temple case?