<TABLE border=0 cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%"><TBODY><TR>Century-old temple appeals against eviction
</TR><!-- headline one : end --><TR>It has failed to pay fee arrears to HDB despite repeated extensions </TR><!-- Author --><TR><TD class="padlrt8 georgia11 darkgrey bold" colSpan=2>By Ang Yiying
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Shui Xian Gong Moral Association chairman Lee Kok Leong, 63, hopes the temple can remain at its Zion Road premises. -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
<!-- START OF : div id="storytext"--><!-- more than 4 paragraphs -->A 102-YEAR-OLD temple in Zion Road will have to vacate its premises by next weekend after it failed to pay rental arrears despite being given repeated extensions by the Housing Board.
The temple owes about $153,370 to the HDB, and has not been paying its monthly fee since 2006, said its spokesman.
The Chwee Hean Keng, or Shui Xian Gong, has now sent a last-ditch appeal to HDB to let it remain there permanently or, at least, for another two years.
Asked about the status of the appeal yesterday, HDB told The Straits Times that it would consider allowing the temple to stay at the site till 2011, roughly when the area is expected to be redeveloped, if arrears are paid in full and monthly payments are made on time from now.
HDB first asked the temple to move out in October 2007 for not having paid its temporary occupation licence fee - akin to monthly rent - since 2006, despite repeated reminders to do so.
The temple management asked for more time to settle its arrears and was given an extension. However, from 2007 to this year, the temple still failed to settle its arrears. Despite that, the HDB gave it three more extensions, said its spokesman.
When the temple still did not pay, its licence was terminated in December last year. The HDB took court action against the temple in March this year for unlawful occupation. The court ruled in HDB's favour. Upon request, HDB gave the temple one last extension, until June 28.
Earlier this month, the temple sent the HDB an appeal letter.
Temple keeper Jimmy Tay, 66, told The Straits Times that in 2006, when the temple was told its area was earmarked for redevelopment along with neighbouring blocks 88 to 92, he stopped paying rent because he was told by HDB officials he no longer needed to do so.
But the HDB said this was not true.
Shui Xian Gong has been plagued by funding woes for the past three or so years. It has a small community of devotees made up of mostly elderly people from the nearby Covent Garden estate and those who used to live in the area when it was still a kampung.
Donations have been hit even more recently by the economic crunch, said Mr Tay. 'Incense money' collected from donation boxes at the temple range in the hundreds, but the cost of upkeeping the temple is in the thousands, he added.
Mr Tay said he even had to dip into his own pockets at times or get friends and relatives to make up the shortfall.
The temple's administration was traditionally handed down from one volunteer temple keeper to the next and the temple did not have a management committee until last year when the Shui Xian Gong Moral Association was formed.
The registered society was set up mainly to look into the HDB arrears and the temple's relocation, said its chairman Lee Kok Leong, 63.
Told of HDB's willingness to consider letting it stay till 2011 if it would pay the arrears, Mr Lee said: 'If they allow us to stay till 2011, we will make arrangements to pay. We will try to get our friends to come in to donate money. It is impossible to depend on temple income.'
Its secretary B.X. Eng, 48, said the committee will hold a meeting once they get an official reply from HDB. 'We want to have ample time to move our deities and to raise funds,' she said.
In the meantime, the lead grassroots group in the temple's constituency, the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens' Consultative Committee, is offering to help.
Committee chairman David Ong said a constituency MP had written to the HDB on the temple's request. 'As the area is slated for redevelopment by HDB, we will work with them to see how best to assist with the temple's request.'
Since 1907, Shui Xian Gong has been paying respects to loyal officials in the late Song dynasty: Wen Tian Xiang, Lu Xiu Fu and Zhang Shi Jie. It also has Buddhist and Taoist deities. [email protected]