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Standoff over world heritage sites

 | November 10, 2012

The Sabah state government is at odds with the federal government, which want the places concerned federalised.

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah government has found itself in a fix over its bid to gain World Heritage Site status for several extraordinary rainforest areas in the state harbouring unique flora and fauna.

The federal government has thrown a spanner in the works by claiming full jurisdiction over the sites but the state government has dug in its heels and refused to hand over the keys to its riches mindful that land is a “sensitive” state matter.

The Federal Ministry of Culture, Arts and Information which must endorse World Heritage Site applications has said that it will not do so if the places concerned are not “federalised”.

The state government has insisted that the demand to handover jurisdiction of the sites was an affront and a less than subtle takeover of state land.

This, they said, was against the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement which guaranteed wide-ranging autonomy for the state in all land matters among others.

The Barisan Nasional government of Chief Minister Musa Aman is aware that surrendering the administration and management of the iconic sites would mean indirect federalisation of state land, already a sore point among voters in the state.

The outcome of the standoff is that full, long-term governmental protection for Maliau Basin, Imbak Canyon and the world famous Danum Valley remains up in the air.

The local press quoted state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun as being angered by the federal ministry’s demands.

The state BN government is acutely aware that it is open to attack by the opposition that they are hostage to the federal government on all important matters and this case furthers that perception among Sabahans deeply concerned by the gradual federalisation of the state.

Masidi’s comments at this week’s two-day International Conference Heart of Borneo (HoB) +5: Shaping and Nurturing Sabah’s Future Together appeared to show that the state government was confounded that the federal authorities had thrown up a barricade of red tape to thwart its bid to raise the tourism profile of the state.

He indicated that the federal government had been dragging its feet on the HoB initiative though it was formalised five years ago.

“We want to move forward … it does not matter whether you want to ride a bicycle, bus or car but what is important is we reach the same destination,” he told the around 600 conference participants representing local and international agencies.

The other parties involved in the initiative are Kalimantan through the Indonesian government, Brunei and Sarawak.


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