GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Government is unhappy over the “unauthorised” public briefing on extraordinary new archaeological discoveries made at the historic Sia Boey enclave in the Prangin area here.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng today said the state wants results of all the findings to be known first before the site is opened to the public, adding that “necessary protective measures” will be taken in the meantime.
“Who gave you the authority to open to the public when you haven’t got all the findings done?” he said at a press conference today. He added that the state is also trying to determine who had sanctioned the event.
Lim pointed out that Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) is conducting the archaeological research under the authority of Penang Development Corporation, the state’s economic and investment arm which oversees Sia Boey and the adjacent Komtar buildings.
The site stands along the margin of the Unesco-listed George Town World Heritage Site. It is also earmarked for development of a transport hub with a LRT and monorail interchange under the state’s multi-billion ringgit Penang Transport Master Plan which has been criticised by civil society groups.
The excavations have revealed various artefacts from the 1800s that point to a thriving commercial settlement existing there under the British colonial administration. The remnants include an old British-made canal and the foundation of a building made of red bricks.
Lim said he was surprised to hear about the briefing as “the state has not been informed of the latest developments”.
He said that the site would now be placed under the purview of the George Town World Heritage Inc (GTWHI), the state’s agency to oversee heritage promotion and conservation.
“From now on the entire site will be under GTWHI,” he said. “There is a breach. Definitely there is breach (in protocol). In order to stop this breach we hand it over to GTWHI to ensure that all the necessary protective measures are done.”
He was quick to add though that “We are not preventing information from being disclosed.”
Asked if the state would protect the site, Lim said: “That’s why I visited it 10 days ago.”
“It was not a secret visit,” he said, adding that the details of his visit were only reported by state media organ Buletin Mutiara, with no other press invited because the state did not want to disturb the site until the findings are done.
Lim also did not wish to speculate on any future plans for the site, appealing to the media to “let them finish the excavation”. He added that the carbon dating has also not been done yet.
The Star today reported that the excavations have uncovered Chinese and European ceramic shards, earthenware, a wooden bollard, bricks of different sizes and old coins.
Also found is an old canal and the foundation of a building said to be an old police station or barracks, the report said.
Penang Heritage Trust president Lim Gaik Siang was quoted by The Star as saying that the discovery proved that what locals had learned about the history of the place was indeed true.
“To me, its significance is similar to that of Fort Cornwallis. What we unearthed here must be preserved and listed as a national heritage site,” she said.
The site housed the famous 150-year old Prangin market until about a decade ago when its age-old traders were moved to McCallum Street Ghaut.
In September last year, the Penang government announced that the area would be revitalised with a RM100 million Penang Heritage Arts District to be built on the 2.2 hectare plot.
This plan, however, was dropped as the state announced in June that the arts district would instead be built off McCallum Street Ghaut, and that the Sia Boey site is eyed for the development of a major transport hub under the Penang Transport Master Plan.