By James K
I must admit that I am deeply concerned by the overblown reaction of the Penang State Government and George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) recently over the issue of a single letter.
The letter was written earlier this year by Penang Forum (a Penang-based NGO) to the Unesco World Heritage Centre regarding concerns that physical development, policies and a transport masterplan may harm the heritage value of George Town.
The overblown reaction by the state government raises a few serious questions:
1. Is writing a letter and merely voicing an opinion to another organisation wrongful in a democratic state like Penang? Must every letter from a Penang-based organisation or individual be vetted by the Penang Government before it reaches its intended recipient?
2. If the state and GTWHI thinks the letter might lose George Town its Unesco heritage status, are they admitting that what they have been doing so far is harming the heritage value of George Town, and that the letter is exposing their actions?
3. The state has always prided itself on transparency and has always stated that it has “nothing to hide”. If there is nothing to hide, why is it afraid of the letter?
Why not immediately invite Unesco representatives over to George Town to show them the truth and dispel the concerns raised by Penang Forum, instead of diverting the issue by criticising Penang Forum?
4. Unesco is an international organisation under the umbrella of the United Nations. Does the state think that an organisation like Unesco will strip away the heritage status immediately just by a single letter, without a proper assessment?
These recent developments are worrying in terms of freedom of expression and heritage preservation in Penang. The state must prove its words by action and not talk.
Tackle the issue on its head and engage all stakeholders directly instead of being defensive and talking indirectly through the media, which benefits nobody.
Allow every citizen to criticise and comment freely without prejudice for sake of the betterment of Penang.
James K is a Concerned Penangite and a FMT reader.
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