No check against abuse in Sabah’s new heritage law, says Yong

KOTA KINABALU: A Sabah opposition leader has questioned the recently-passed State Heritage Enactment 2017 for transfering the power to revoke a heritage status from the state assembly to the minister responsible for culture.

“The 2017 enactment does not have a provision to make it mandatory to have the consent of the head of state or the legislative assembly to revoke the heritage status of any site,” said Sabah Progressive Party president Yong Teck Lee.

The new enactment repeals the Cultural Heritage (Conservation) Enactment 1997, under which any changes to a cultural heritage or conservation area must be approved by the Sabah Legislative Assembly.

Yong, who is a former Sabah chief minister, said the clause was a strong deterrent against abuses by the government.

“This is because the process of obtaining a resolution of the assembly will necessarily bring the proposed de-gazetting of the heritage conservation area into the public arena.

“This will force the ministers and officials to explain their decision to revoke a heritage area to the public and defend it,” added Yong.

He said the media and environmental groups would also come to know about any proposed revocation of a heritage site, and the publicity generated would act as a deterrent against abuses by the government.

Yong said in the past, this had ensured the protection of the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands, as well as the Atkinson Clock Tower, the Chong Tain Vun Park and Padang Merdeka.

The State Heritage Enactment 2017 would provide funds for the conservation and preservation of state heritage, sites and objects, tangible and intangible cultural heritage and other related matters.

The enactment will also repeal the Cultural Heritage (Conservation) Enactment 1997 (No 2 of 1997), which was considered not comprehensive enough to cover all matters related to heritage in the state.

The enactment also provides for the establishment of a State Heritage Council which will advise the director, formulate policies on heritage and monitor and propose any improvements to the guidelines and conservation management plans for heritage items.

Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Kamarlin Ombi said under the new enactment, the minister might, in consultation with the council, by order published in the gazette, declare any heritage site, heritage object or any living person as a state heritage.