Unifor cannot expect the government to be its Santa Claus in giving financial handouts all the time.

– Richard Lon, Unifor director

Why has the proposed RM70 million Unifor (Unit for Other Religions) complex suddenly become an issue?

The complex when completed will serve as an exemplary landmark depicting religious freedom in Sarawak. It will serve as an icon for the whole country — and perhaps other nations in the region too — to witness what true religious freedom means and emulate the example set by our leaders.

Shouldn’t Sarawakians, yes you and I, be proud of this complex? Shouldn’t we be thankful of the tireless efforts of our leaders who ensure continued multi-racial and multi-religious harmony which has become the hallmark of the state?

Why do we have politicians or quarters creating issues to disrupt the peace and harmony that Sarawakians have enjoyed for decades?

Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) Youth recently questioned the rationale for the construction of the multi-million-ringgit complex, arguing that it’s a “waste of public fund”.

I can’t fathom how a party of nearly 100 percent non-Muslim members could criticise the government’s efforts to help the state’s 60 percent or so non-Muslim community. The party should instead be championing and supporting the state’s efforts through Unifor and its charitable trust fund.

Is there a hidden agenda? Youth movements of political parties, anyway, are known to be independent of their parent bodies and tend to be critical. They often end up putting their foot in their mouth and in the end get reprimanded by their party leaders.

Though they often act as the mouthpiece of their parties, in this instance I would like to think that PSB Youth was not sanctioned by the party leaders to make the ludicrous statement that it made which caused non-Muslims a lot of anguish.

But the fact that the party leaders are keeping quiet goes to show that the Youth movement could have been sanctioned to make the statement. That being the case, the party has gone beyond the boundaries of its political expediency which will do it more harm than good and badly affect its position in the eyes of the non-Muslims.

Even our Muslim brothers and sisters in Sarawak have given their full support to Unifor since it was mooted by the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem in 2016. Yet, here we have a political party of non-Muslims questioning the good intention of the Sarawak government!

Unifor director Richard Lon responded aptly to PSB Youth, and I quote: “Having a ‘magnificent’ complex is not a sin and in fact, it will spur Unifor and Unifor Charitable Trust to do even more … The very fact that the Sarawak government has decided to give a 1.2ha premium site for the complex and a RM70 million grant to finance its construction speaks volumes of the significance and recognition for Unifor in its roles towards solidifying religious and racial harmony and unity in Sarawak.”

You couldn’t have said it better, sir!

Even National Unity Minister Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique was all praise for Unifor while on an official visit to Kuching early last month, noting the agency was “unique to Sarawak as it promotes understanding, tolerance, acceptance and mutual respect between Islam and various religions in the state and is a very practical and important organisation”.

Halimah reportedly said she had briefed the King about Unifor and its objectives and roles and would invite Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas who oversees Unifor and Unifor Charitable Trust to have an audience with His Majesty to brief him on the agency’s role in promoting interfaith unity and harmony.

Since 2017, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg has allocated a total of RM115 million (which includes the RM70 million allocation for the Unifor complex).

For the record, Unifor has undertaken more than 520 infrastructural projects statewide.

In the words of Lon: “We are glad we have put the roof in many roofless churches, temples or chapels. Also built were walls and all where bare foundations once stood, this has allowed more faithful worshippers to congregate and pray in more spacious halls. We have fulfilled many dreams in cities and towns as well as longhouses and settlements far and deep in the interiors.”

So, there you go. Unifor has put to good use all the money allocated to it.

It has also helped several houses of worship. They include:

  • RM2.3 million for the reconstruction of the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Kuching.
  • RM3.5 million for the Sarawak Sikh Temple Association for its temple extension project in Kuching
  • RM400,000 for the Holy Trinity Parish in Miri.
  • RM1 million for the Interfaith Community Centre in Miri

Back to the RM70 million Unifor complex, it will not only serve as an office building, but also generate sustainable income for the agency to take care of the welfare of non-Muslims. It can’t be operating from shop lots and it can’t be relying on the government for grants forever, can it?

I conclude by appealing to more organisations and houses of worship that have benefited from Unifor’s assistance to come forward and voice their support instead of keeping silent.