COMMENT BY YB PROF DR P.RAMASAMY, DEPUTY CHIEF MINISTER II, PENANG
A few years back, the Penang Hindu Endowments Board (PHEB) used Section 4 of the Hindu Endowments Ordinance 1906 to take control of the management of the Selva Vinaygar Temple in Perai.
This was the first temple in Penang that PHEB took over as result of public complaints of mismanagement and financial irregularities.
However, before the PHEB could attach the properties of the temple, the takeover was challenged by two principal parties.
The first one was by some members of the old management committee and the second challenge emanated from the government’s Insolvency Department.
When the old committee failed to challenge the PHEB on the legality of the takeover, they petitioned the Insolvency Department to challenge the legality of the takeover. This challenge was on the grounds that de-registration of the society only enabled the Insolvency Department to intervene on ownership and property matters and not the PHEB.
As result of this petition, I suspect, that Insolvency Department not normally not keen to intervene on Hindu temple matters felt it had a role by way of challenging the PHEB in the High Court in Penang.
The Insolvency Department felt that it was the right party to intervene on property matters as result of the earlier dissolution of the society by the Registrar of Society or ROS.
However, we at the PHEB felt that when it came to the conflict between a general and specific law, the latter should we prevail.
The PHEB won the case against the Insolvency Department in the Penang High Court but lost it upon appeal by it at the Court of Appeal.
And finally, we engaged the legal service of a prominent lawyer Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram to plead our case at the Federal Court.
Our victory at the Federal Court was stunning indeed; it revealed that the ID cannot simply intervene if there was in existence of a specific legislation in this case the Penang Hindu Endowments Ordinance.
It is this specific law that permits the PHEB the enforcement powers to intervene and regulate the function of temples if there are grounds to believe that certain wrongdoings had taken place.
Thus, if there is a specific law, the general law must take a back seat.