Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Who will do better for George Town?

Who do you think will do better for George Town's status as a UNESCO world heritage site? The present Penang government under Pakatan Harapan or a would-be Penang government under Barisan Nasional, if they take control of the state in the forthcoming 14th General Election (GE14)?

I read that the Penang Barisan Nasional had, on 15 April, launched its state manifesto, themed “Save Penang: Penang BN Pledges” which outlined six core pledges with 60 initiatives to be implemented if BN were to wrest Penang from the Pakatan Harapan government. Among them is a pledge on tourism and heritage which would:

  • Encourage more direct flights, total stopovers of cruise ships in Penang.
  • Limit sales of heritage building to foreigners.
  • Preserve status of Georgetown as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Create “Penang Food Heaven” zones and improve food tourism activities.
  • Revive, upgrade “ Living Heritage”, Artisan Streets at George Town World Heritage sites
  • Maintain, conserve, Penang historical buildings and create World Musical Fiesta Tour.

In response to these election promises, the DAP Penang chairman, Chow Kon Yeow, today issued this media statement below. I shall leave it to my readers to judge for themselves which side has made their point better:
George Town recognized by UNESCO as an "Good Example of Heritage City Management"
The Penang Barisan Nasional has made several promises on heritage issues in their 14th General Election Manifesto.
As the caretaker State Government, together with George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) and Penang Island City Council we like to respond to these issues. We want to reassure Penang BN and the people that we have been recognized by UNESCO as a "Good Example of Heritage City Management" and we will surely do better than Penang BN.
1. To limit the sale of heritage building to foreigners
Data from 2008-2017 indicate that foreigners (non-Malaysians) own 194 premises or 3.5% of the 4,100 Category II heritage buildings within the George Town World Heritage Site. The statistics indicate that the ongoing drastic demographic changes do not relate to the owner’s nationality as much, but more on the attitude and appreciation of heritage property owners towards our shared heritage.
The Penang State Government mitigate these challenges by identifying the root cause, and manage the problems with the most constructive and sustainable strategies. Limiting the sale of heritage buildings to foreigners will not solve the problems as it is not a thorough approach.
In 2017, the State Government initiated the RM3 million Heritage Habitat Seed Fund for the George Town World Heritage Site as the pilot approach in mitigating the ongoing challenges. The fund aims to aid the physical restoration of heritage premises to provide relief on the restoration cost, thereby preventing an increase in the rent charges and maintaining long-term tenancy at the site.
Qualified premise owners will receive an incentive to refurbish or conserve their premises, and subsequently charge affordable rent for 10 years. Both tenants and owners shall agree to conserve the premise according to heritage regulations and will be provided with related training. The Fund provides housing for long-term tenants who have contributed to the conservation of the cultural heritage and Outstanding Universal Values of the heritage site, while ensuring that long-term tenants can remain within the site.

We believe this is a better approach to ensure conservation of heritage properties and keeping long-term tenants in the World Heritage Site.

2. To preserve the status of George Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
George Town and Melaka were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008 for their remarkable examples of historic colonial towns on the Straits of Malacca that demonstrate a succession of historical and cultural influences.
Since 2008, the status of the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site has been well maintained with the strong political commitments from the State Government. It established George Town World Heritage Incorporated in 2010 to be the one-stop site manager. George Town World Heritage Incorporated has been delivering its mandate and has proven to be one of the best site managers in Malaysia and Asia. It has been recognised by UNESCO Office Jakarta as one “Good Example of Heritage City Management” (Malay Mail Online, 1 March 2018).
The State Government has enacted the State Heritage Enactment and gazetted the Special Area Plan as the main guidelines of management. A Heritage Technical Reviews Panel (TRP) is also established in MBPP to scrutinize all development applications to ensure heritage guidelines are complied with before approvals be given.
The State Government has also engaged in several heritage conservation projects, demonstrating its strong commitment to sustain the Outstanding Universal Values of George Town.

The State Government has also collaborated with international experts in promoting and conserving artefacts and objects in Penang.

3. To revive and upgrade “the Living Heritage” and Artisan Streets in the George Town World Heritage Site
The annual George Town Heritage Celebrations conducted on 7 July has mobilised over 20 local communities to document, present and share cultural heritage topics through themes such as Living Legacies in 2014, Eat Rite: Ritual Foods of George Town in 2015, Mai Main: Traditional Sports and Games in 2016 and Walk the Talk: Oral Traditions and Expressions in 2017

The Penang State Government has initiated the Video Documentation Project on the Artisans and Practitioners of George Town (2015-2017) to document and archive the intangible cultural heritage of George Town. The ongoing Oral History Documentation from 2013 till 2018 has produced at least 111 interviews with the artisans, practitioners and long-term residents of George Town.

The Cultural Heritage Education Programme (CHEP) was launched since 2016 to promote local cultural heritage to the younger generation (aged 10 to 17) through creative educational programmes. This is the only heritage programme offered to school children in Penang and Malaysia.

George Town was also invited as a working partner by UNESCO Category II Centre: The International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region (ICHCAP) under the auspices of UNESCO to collaborate on intangible cultural heritage related projects.

There are more constructive and practical initiatives to be adopted by the Penang State Government to safeguard George Town’s living heritage.

4. To maintain and conserve the historical buildings in Penang
Conservation of heritage buildings requires strong institutional commitments, sufficient resources and sustainable human capacity. Since 2013, George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) has been conducting heritage conservation workshops for the public to enhance their knowledge and increase public capacity in conserving heritage properties using the proper methods. Through these workshops, we train heritage property owners, contractors, architects and other professional consultants on the principles and techniques of conservation, requirements and guidelines for conservation work, and the documentation needed for the restoration and renovation of heritage premises.

It has also conducted heritage building inventories throughout the state of Penang. Among the projects completed are the Inventori Warisan Ketara Pulau Pinang in 2012, Inventori Bangunan Warisan Ketara Seberang Perai Utara in 2013, Inventori Bangunan Warisan Ketara Seberang Perai Tengah in 2014 and Inventori Bangunan Warisan Ketara Seberang Perai Selatan in 2015. Penang State Government is in the process of getting the consent from heritage property owners before gazetting the property as a heritage building under the Penang State Enactment, 2011. It is only with the active participation of heritage property owners that the conservation of heritage properties in Penang can be sustainable and meaningful.

Since 2008, the Penang State Government and its agencies, together with the stakeholders and communities have committed to the preservation and maintenance of the World Heritage Site in accordance to the Heritage Management Plan. The various initiatives and programme carried out since 2008 has shown great success in making George Town a vibrant, lively and enchanting heritage city.

We believe we can do better for George Town.

Thank you

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