Government Drops Bid To Acquire Kuantan Church Land

“The government shall withdraw their acquisition of the church land and the court has directed the government take all steps to degazette the intention to acquire,” the church’s lawyer Benedict Wong told The Malaysian Insider when contacted today.

“This means we won back our land,” he later said.

On November 16 last year, the Catholic Church won the right to challenge the Education Ministry and the Pahang state government’s decision to acquire the plot of Kuantan land where the St Thomas Church is located.

The Kuantan High Court had suspended the government’s bid to acquire the 0.7-hectare piece of land in Jalan Gambut, which also houses the SM St Thomas Catholic mission school, pending the outcome of today’s the judicial review that was to be argued in court today.

Wong said today’s court order was “by consent” and all the parties involved had agreed to it.

He explained that the order did not amount to a court decision, as the government’s senior federal counsel had told the court of its decision to withdraw the acquisition at the start of today’s hearing.

Wong said that all parties would bear their own costs for the court proceedings as the High Court did not give any order on costs.

The St Thomas Church dispute erupted earlier last year when the government moved to acquire the church land owned by the Catholic Church in an attempt to take charge of the public school built there.

The Pahang land office had gazetted the land for acquisition on May 24 last year shortly before the church was formally notified, English-language daily The Star had reported on August 29.

On September 5 last year, The Star reported Wong as saying that the Education Ministry had agreed to relocate SMK St Thomas to another site and return the land to the church, but the ministry did not give clear indication of the move-out date.

“Then, with no further progress and with the deadline for handing over vacant possession looming large on Dec 31 this year, the applicant received a notice of intended acquisition of the land on June 21,” Wong was quoted saying by the paper last year.

The church had argued that the government decision to acquire part of the land, which is owned by the Titular Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Rev Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam and his predecessors since 1905, is null and void as it infringes the fundamental right of freedom to practise the Catholic religion as guaranteed in the Federal Constitution.

When contacted, St Thomas church’s parish priest Rev Father Mitchel Anthony said that the public school would have to move from the church land, but said that no date has been mentioned yet.

“Now, the school has to hand over the land to us... but there’s no date given yet.

“That is between the (Arch)Bishop and the school to negotiate to get a right date so they can move without difficulty,” he said.

When asked about the church’s plans for the school buildings, he said that it would be expanding its activities, including an interstate centre for Christian instruction and leadership classes.

But he said the church is “not in a hurry”, saying that the school needs to be given time to move.

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