By Zairil Khir Johari
I view with great concern news about the potential risk of George Town losing its Unesco World Heritage status following a letter sent by local NGO group, the Penang Forum, to the UN body’s headquarters in Paris, France.
The letter dated 23 June 2016 entitled “Melaka and George Town Heritage Property: Request for Unesco Advisory Mission and Impact Assessment of Proposed Transport Master Plan in George Town, Penang” called for Unesco to conduct a review based on the false premise that the proposed Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) would endanger heritage areas.
The state has pointed out numerous times that every effort would be taken to ensure the preservation of the heritage enclave. It is for this reason that, in keeping to heritage guidelines, the PTMP will not involve the construction of elevated structures within the Unesco World Heritage site. Instead, street-level trams have been proposed in the inner city.
More disappointingly, the letter to Unesco bore the signature of Dr Lim Mah Hui, who is not only a councillor of the Penang Island City Council, but also a member of the Penang Transport Council and a director of the Penang Institute.
As a state government insider, Mah Hui should know better than to sabotage his own state. Despite having access to all available data including confidential documents related to the PTMP, Mah Hui has willingly put his name to a statement that is deliberately misleading.
Furthermore, the act of sending the complaint directly to Paris and not to the relevant local administration agencies such as George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) or Jabatan Warisan Negara immediately brings into question the motives behind the move.
Why was the state not engaged beforehand, if indeed George Town’s heritage status was at risk? After all, the state government of Penang has time and again shown that constructive criticism is not merely tolerated, but actively engaged with through countless public dialogue sessions and roundtable discussions. In fact, the state even took the step of appointing opposition assemblymen and members of the Penang Forum to the Penang Transport Council, although the former chose to decline.
Mah Hui’s actions are most regrettable, particularly when he has many avenues available through which he can voice his concerns. Instead, he has taken an adversarial position against Penang by jeopardising George Town’s Unesco World Heritage status through a letter filled mostly with opinions rather than facts.
Zairil Khir Johari is Executive Director, Penang Institute and Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera.
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