Sia Boey to be given federal protection, says dept


GEORGE TOWN: A disused riverside market here will be put under federal heritage protection, following recent archaeological findings at the site, the National Heritage Department (NHD) announced today.

In a statement released today, the department said it would issue an interim protection order (IPO) on the site and also send its own archaeologists to the site, to aid with research.

“Results of the preliminary research indicate that this excavation may take longer than expected as historical evidence has yet to be found.

“To ensure Sia Boey is protected, the National Hertiage Department will issue an interim protection order under Section 33 of the National Heritage Act 2005.

“However, the state government’s approval is needed to enable the interim protection order to be issued.

“Research and excavation by Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) will continue until completed, especially around the canal area, in order for a better picture of the situation,” it said in a statement titled “Feedback on Sia Boey”.

Under the Act, the department can issue an IPO for at least 90 days and this can be extended by the Federal Heritage Commissioner as many times as he or she wishes.

The IPO is to conserve and preserve the site for its cultural heritage significance. It also prevents any work from being carried out at the site, without express permission from the Commissioner.

Presently, the Commissioner of Heritage is Dr Zainah Ibrahim, who is also the director-general of the NHD.

The Sia Boey issue has hogged the headlines in Penang of late, with the Penang Government earlier earmarking the place as a future LRT transportation hub. The hub will have LRT lines converging there.

The state-owned land has been undergoing excavation works and what was unearthed has surprised many.

An old canal was discovered, together with the remains of a police station and ceramic shards — all dating to the early 19th century.

Local NGO grouping Penang Forum had then alerted Unesco, a UN body which bestowed George Town with the World Heritage Site status in 2008 on the findings. It also conveyed its concerns about a possible transport hub planned at the site.

This prompted fury from the Penang Government as Sia Boey falls outside the heritage site boundary. The government blasted the Forum members and vilified them in a string of acerbically-written letters.

The Forum responded by saying it had the right to convey any grievances to Unesco as it encouraged feedback to protect heritage sites. It hoped that Unesco officials would come down and review the transport hub plan as it might have adverse effects on the heritage site.

Meanwhile, the National Heritage Department echoed the sentiments of the Forum, saying the proposed transport hub, if built on Sia Boey, would have a significant impact on the heritage site.

The department, though stating that it cannot “provide an extensive commentary”, said the findings at the canal were “historic and important”.

“The findings serve to tell a story on how George Town was renowned as a trading port.

“It also goes to fortify George Town’s status as a World Heritage Site.

“However, we were told that the transport hub’s location is not final and that this remains just a proposal,” it added.

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