To register or not to register temples?

17 Jul 2019 / 19:44 H.

    A RECENT proclamation by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) that a certain church need not be registered with the Registrar of Societies has raised questions among other religious groups.

    These groups, notably those holding office in their temple committees, are wondering if they too can be exempted from registration on the same grounds.

    The church in question is the Mar Thoma Syrian Church in Kuala Lumpur.

    In a letter to the church leaders, a spokesman for the AGC, Shamsul Bolhassan, had said that it was not necessary for the church to be registered with ROS, and that it was sufficient for it to have trustees who are registered under the Trustees Incorporation Act, 1952.

    In other words, this church now does not have to follow ROS rules on election of office bearers, collection and usage of funds, and other rules that the temples have to abide by.

    The temples registered with ROS have to submit to ROS their annual reports, audited annual accounts, and be subject to all other rules under the Societies Act, 1966, as well as to provisions of their individual constitutions, failing which they could be deregistered.

    These temple leaders are wondering if they could opt out of registration with the ROS, and instead incorporate trustees who would be charged to look after the temple properties, just as the Mar Thoma Church Trustees are charged to look after the church properties?

    And incorporating the trustees is straight-forward. Such incorporation does not require the approval or sanction of any authoritative body. Once the trustees are thus incorporated, the temples can withdraw their registration with ROS. And then they will be free to manage their own affairs without any outside authority having oversight over them. They would be free to conduct their elections, free from having to abide by their constitutional provisions, and free to collect, disburse and dispense monies locally or abroad.

    They would also be free from accountability to their own members from whom they collect monies, and be immune from oversight by ROS or any such regulatory public authority to whom dissatisfied members could have recourse.

    If the Mar Thoma Syrian Church can take this route to avoid registration with the ROS, so can the temples.

    Could the ROS and AGC confirm if temple committees can now enjoy the same privileges as the Mar Thoma Syrian Church and if not, why not?

    Steve Roads

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