KUCHING: Sarawak's Unit for Other Religions (Unifor) has set up an advisory council to promote mutual respect and provide advice in responding to religious issues.
Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said the council was mooted some time ago but its formation was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and a leadership change in Unifor.
"We need this forum to resolve religious issues that may crop up from time to time. After all, we are living in a borderless world with technological advancements.
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"There are also political developments around us and in the world which create challenging problems," he said when chairing a meeting to set up the advisory council here on Thursday (Dec 7).
As the minister in charge of Unifor, Uggah was appointed council chairman while its members comprise religious and spiritual heads of 16 non-Islamic faiths in Sarawak.
He said Sarawak did not want religious problems from outside the state to reach its shores and create confusion, anger, disharmony or disunity among the people.
Uggah said that with the council, a forum now exists to discuss and reach a consensus for amicable solutions when any such issues are faced.
"If they are debated in public, they can become divisive and difficult to handle," he added.
Uggah said religious and racial harmony in the state must be preserved at all costs for the benefit of all.
"Sarawak is still the most peaceful and united state in the nation where race and religion are concerned," he said.
Uggah also said the council members could help Unifor monitor the status of approved projects on the ground.
He said grants allocated for construction, repair or renovation works must be utilised at once.
"Unifor's policy is that we will not entertain any new request unless the given allocations are spent," he added.
Unifor director Datuk Jack Aman said the advisory council's tasks were to promote mutual respect and acceptance among all religions and to provide counsel on issues that arise.
"The council will advise Unifor on how to respond to religious issues of any kind that affect the peace and harmony of various races and religions in Sarawak.
"It will mediate when such issues arise," he added.
Jack said the council would also provide information and recommendations from the spiritual perspective of the respective religions for strategic planning and policies on matters relating to religious harmony.
In addition, he said it would help ensure transparency and accountability among the respective religious bodies for funds received from Unifor.
"Newer roles will be added when Unifor expands," he said.