Funds dry up, RM35 mil lifeline sought to conserve heritage buildings

National Heritage Commissioner Zainah Ibrahim. (Facebook pic)

GEORGE TOWN: A federal government department in charge of conserving heritage buildings and sites has asked for at least RM35 million to continue protecting and conserving valuable buildings in the country.

National Heritage Commissioner Zainah Ibrahim said RM30 million in funds given 12 years ago had dried up.

She said ever since the National Heritage Department was formed in 2006, it was only given that “one-off payment” of RM30 million by the finance ministry, placed in the Heritage Consolidated Fund (Tabung Kumpulan Wang Warisan).

Zainah said her department now operates only on the budget provided by the tourism and culture ministry, which she said was merely sufficient.

“We have asked the finance ministry to give us RM35 million. That would be the bare minimum to ensure conservation projects are continued throughout the country.

“We do not know how long this RM35 million will last us.

“To some, RM35 million might be a big sum. But if you ask heritage conservators, they will tell you it is very little and you cannot do much with it. But we are willing to live with something rather than nothing at all.”

Zainah spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the International Conference on Managing Urban Cultural Heritage, organised by Unesco, George Town World Heritage Incorporated and the Japan Foundation.

She said since the department’s inception in 2006, some of the buildings conserved were the St Mary’s Cathedral in Kuala Lumpur, Pengkalan Kakap Mosque in Merbok, Kedah, St George’s Church in George Town and Masjid Ihsaniah Iskandariah in Padang Rengas, which is made out of kelarai (woven bamboo).

Zainah said while the George Town and Melaka World Heritage Sites and the Kinabalu Park were under the purview of the Penang, Melaka and Sabah governments, the Lenggong Valley was under her department’s supervision.

“These sites need funding from us in order to be preserved. Allocating us the budget to do so would do wonders for our country’s precious heritage.”