They may worship in separate churches belonging to different denominations, but in death they share the same cemetery in Western Road in Penang. Now, an ad inserted in the local press requiring those with burial rights and relatives of the deceased to register with the MPPP has raised consternation among segments of the local Christian community.
It was the bit about the one-month deadline to register “failing which MPPP would take necessary actions to repossess the burial plots for use” that created something of a stir. See theSun report here and a letter from a concerned reader here who asked, “I am of the opinion that MPPP only has the right to ask descendants, family members and their appointed personal representatives to re-affirm ownership of burial plots. But that is the most that they can legally do. MPPP does not have any legal right to seize old burial plots even if nobody comes forward to re-register claim.”
I got in touch with a couple of MPPP councillors to find out what was going on. Here’s what I learned:
The Western Road cemetery land belongs to the MPPP. The Catholic and Protestant Churches each contribute just RM2,000 per year to the Council for the management of the cemetery. The Council has been holding meetings with representatives from both these groups – each represented by three members.
The cemetery has been poorly managed, even neglected. Quite a few ‘funny’ things are going on. It’s almost like a free for all, with no proper system of managing who is buried there. Mosquitoes are breeding too.
Now, the Council wants to improve the management of the place, and one of the priorities is to look into the records of the burials. Apparently, there were bulk purchases of burial plots for which no names were recorded for the individual plots in the register. Also, there are empty burial plots scattered around the cemetery for which the ownership is unknown. It is these that the Council is focusing on.
The ad, probably drafted by a bureaucrat, refers to just a preliminary registration exercise. This exercise will be ongoing, and the MPPP is even thinking of extending the registration to occasions like All Souls Day, when relatives come to pay their respects to deceased family members. The MPPP also wants the churches to play a more pro-active role in the management and improvement of the place. The churches have agreed to create awareness among their Christian communities on what can be done to improve the management of the cemetery.
Among the improvements the Council is considering: an updated register, better control over burial plots, a new columbarium, better security, the installation of lighting at night, sealing up of flower jars, etc that could be potential mosquito breeding sites.
I think MPPP needs to come out and reassure the Christian community that their burial plots are safe. It was a bad ad that only raised alarm.