Nothing sacred in bid for village temple

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 June, 2012, 12:00am


Why Sha Tin rural leaders have suddenly set their sights on the famous Che Kung Temple, a key tourist attraction in the district, is unclear. Given that visitors and pilgrims make donations worth millions of dollars every year at the government-owned temple, this is perhaps a good enough motive. It is a cash cow.

But perhaps this is too base an assumption. The elders on the rural committee say they have in mind only the interests of indigenous villagers, whoever they are. If the villagers regain ownership, the committee says, they will use the temple to benefit all Sha Tin residents, not just themselves. At the moment, the government-run temple is open to the public.

In their legal bid, the rural leaders have pushed forward Lau Tin-yeung, a 62-year-old villager living on social welfare, to file for a judicial review.

On behalf of other villagers, his brief argues that the temple and the land on which it has stood for three centuries belong to them, rather than the government, which has owned and managed it since the early 1930s. It claims that a Supreme Court order in 1932 transferred only a small portion of the ownership to the government. Therefore, most of the land should still belong to the original villagers or their descendants.

The committee approached the government earlier to claim ownership of the temple, but officials rightly gave them the cold shoulder. By convincing Lau to file a review, committee leaders such as chairman Mok Kam-kwai are clearly hoping to increase their chances of success in obtaining legal aid. By making this dubious bid, it appears they don't even have the decency to use their own money, but try to do it at public expense.

The government rebuilt the ornate temple and its surroundings in the early 1990s. Since then, tourists and thousands of worshippers have made their annual pilgrimage on the second day of the Lunar New Year to wish for good fortune for the rest of the year.

The Che Kung Temple is an important public landmark for the enjoyment of the whole community, not just the rural committee and its cronies.