Citizen journalists Jimmy Leow and Lilian Chan have managed to get the Penang Bishop’s views on the controversy over the eviction letters issued to villagers residing on the church’s land at St Francis Xavier’s Church along Penang Road.
Just a few quick observations arising from the Bishop’s comments:
It doesn’t look as if the Church has carried out a proper survey of the affected households to establish the residents’ socio-economic status or needs before they were issued eviction letters. The question is, why the urgency to issue lawyer’s letters and evict the residents before carrying out such a survey of their needs, especially those of the senior citizens? Shouldn’t the process have involved extensive consultations with the affected residents, the setting up of arbitration panels and the soliciting of views from lay Catholics – rather than a top-down approach of resorting to lawyer’s letters?
From the Unesco map (download here), it is clear that the village lies inside the heritage buffer zone – and not outside it. The area doesn’t merely have “heritage connotations”; it lies inside the heritage buffer zone. Hence, Unesco heritage guidelines apply.
Still not clear what exactly the Church intends to do with the land in question and the rationale for “centralising” social services all in one location. What about the needs of the poor elsewhere on the island and on the mainland?
The Bishop has called journalists “irresponsible”. But has the church been clear and transparent from the start? Most Catholics still do not know exactly what the church plans to do in the village area. One senior journalist told me he was hoping the bishop would call a press conference so that interested journalists could ask follow-up questions and receive clarification.