On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Ending the year with some good news

National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia secretary-general Wong Kin Kong, who had described the situation as serious, said he recorded a 25% error rate in the samplings he carried out on church members around the country.

The assurance by NRD director-general Datuk Mohd Abdul Halim Muhammad is surely one of the best Christmas gifts for the Christian community, who had been concerned over the slow official reaction.

The matter was brought up at a Cabinet meeting after representations were made to Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Datuk Tan Chai Ho and Home Affairs Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Aseh Che Mat.

The issue goes beyond a simple act of inputing data wrongly as inaccurate statistics, even those involving minority groups, can have serious implications for any development plans, whether by the Government or private sector.

The bureaucratic delay in rectifying these errors is certainly unnecessary. But all's well that ends well.

The announcement by the NRD should not just remove any lingering doubts but reinforce our belief that the leadership, particularly the Prime Minister, believes in justice and fair play.

At the same time, we also pray that Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would look into the concerns of Christians who face problems in setting up churches to meet the spiritual needs of the community.

In the past, mosques, temples and churches existed next to one another. It was never a problem because God-fearing Malaysians go to these places to pray for peace and good things.

So, it must be strange to hear bureaucrats at council and state level citing various reasons to hold back the construction of churches on open land. The result is that more and more Christians have to attend services in churches located at office blocks, shopping areas and even warehouses.

God is everywhere but the fact remains that Christians, like all worshippers, would surely want a proper sanctuary where the people can dedicate themselves to God.

Permission to build churches in Malaysia, it is not wrong to say, has now been fraught with many forms of obstacles, with numerous government agencies seemingly taking their time to approve them.

The policy of the Barisan Nasional Government is clear. So, is our Federal Constitution which states every person has the right to profess and practice his religion, which surely also means the right to carry out the observations and practice of the faith.

The Constitution, as the supreme law of the land, becomes a meaningless document if we do not respect and practise what our forefathers had decided.

Fortunately, the tolerance and mutual respect among ordinary Malaysians for one another's faith is still very strong, and this is something we are all proud of.

The Muslim call to prayer from mosques and suraus is a way of life for all of us. The loud Chinese operas during the Hungry Ghost Festival are not a problem to non-believers and similarly, everyone, including the huge Muslim population near Batu Caves, helps to make the Thaipusam a success every year by cooperating with the organisers.

Leave it to the ordinary people and race and religion have never been a problem.  When selfish politicians step in as self-appointed champions of their faith and their race, they become a problem and sometimes problems are simply imagined to allow them to hold on to their positions.

Let me just say thanks to Mega, Izatun, Nathan, Jahabar, Aeria, David Yeat, Zieman and my other fellow Malaysians who came to my house for Kayu's nasi kandar to usher in Christmas.