Rev Michael Thoo has released a press state statement from the office of the Penang Bishop. Here is the statement in full:
In response to recent and current newspaper reports on the “eviction exercise” of’ 14 houses within the grounds of the Church of St. Francis Xavier, Penang Road, 10000 Georgetown, Penang the church wishes to clarify as follows:
– There are 14 semi-concrete pre-war houses within the grounds of the Church of St. Francis, Penang Road, George Town, Penang. The houses are old and have no architectural value.
– Other buildings on the land are the St Joseph’s Home for orphans and children from broken homes, the Learning Centre for children with learning disabilities and the “Lighthouse” which provides free food for the needy and school buildings. These social welfare and charitable organisations are run and/or supported by the church.
– Twelve of the houses are occupied by monthly tenants paying nominal monthly rentals between RM60 to RM200. It is not true that all the tenants have not been paying the monthly rentals for the last 36 months as ieported in the issue of The Catholic Herald dated 31 May 2009 and The Star dated 2 June 2009;
– Two houses are presently empty.
– Unfortunately, one of the two tenants who vacated her house (No. 52-L, Penang Road, Penang) proceeded to remove the zinc and timber roof truss from the house thus creating a potential hazard.
When church’s workers started removing the plywood wall of the house to prevent the potential danger of the unstable wall from collapsing, the MPPP acted rightfully in requesting the church to stop work. The church regrets this inadvertent violation of the law. That house is infested by termites and is in danger of imminent collapse.
– The church has no record of the residents being there for four generations as reported. Some of the residents had moved out in the past and new tenants had moved in.
– The church intends to use the said 14 houses after refurbishment for its religious, welfiare and charitable purposes as it is doing now.
– The refurbishment of the houses will be done in accordance with Unesco and local council guidelines, regulations and by-laws.
– The church has no intention to sell the land to the Cititel Hotel group or to embark on a “property development project” as reported. Consequently, all such reports are baseless and mischievous.
– The church is mindful of the economic plight of some of the residents. It is for this reason that the church has decided to give them ample notice of two years to deliver vacant possession of the houses occupied by them. In addition, the church has also decided to give them an “ex-gratia” payment of RM10,000 per household in order to assist them to relocate. No rentals will be collected from the residents during these two years from 1 June 2008 till 31 May 2010.
Dated the 5th day of June, 2OO9.
Rev Michael Thoo
from the office of the Rt Rev Antony Selvayanagam,
The Titular Roman Catholic Bishop of Penang