Pointless to charge heritage wreckers if punishment is light, Penang councils told

Pointless to charge heritage wreckers if punishment is light, Penang councils told

Implement heavy, deterrent legislation, stricter enforcement, says George Town Heritage Action co-founder

GEORGE TOWN – A heritage activist has called for a serious relook at local council by-laws to ensure that developers or contractors who ruin heritage treasures in Penang are given a stiff punishment and not just a rap on the knuckles.

George Town Heritage Action co-founder Mark Lay said that it is pointless to take alleged offenders to court if the punishment turns out to be light or negligible.

He pointed out that in some countries, fines for those found guilty can be in excess of a million dollars and imprisonment can stretch to a decade, where the penalties befit the crime.

“We need to have deterrent legislation besides stricter enforcement if we want to conserve and preserve the heritage legacy Penang enjoys,” he said when contacted by The Vibes.

“If not, we will continue to suffer from incidents of heritage monuments and buildings being destroyed in the quest for modernity and greed.”

Lay’s remarks come in the wake of the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) deciding to take a developer to court for allegedly carrying out the exhumation of the remains of 19th century personality Mdm Foo Teng Nyong and destroying her tombstone at Jalan Bulan Terang off Fettes Park here.

Fettes Park is a housing enclave adjacent to the island’s biggest burial ground for the Chinese community.

Foo is listed as the third wife of Kapitan Chung Keng Quee, who reportedly founded Taiping, and is considered one of the biggest tin miners in the country’s history.

Lay shared how developers in England and India were penalised in the millions for destroying heritage buildings there.

Earlier, MBPP issued a show cause letter under Section 97(2) of the Local Government Act 1976 (Act 171) to the developer for the alleged desecration of the tombstone.

The developer can face legal action if it does not respond to the show cause letter, and is liable to a fine not exceeding RM5,000 or a one-year jail term, or both.

To this, Lay described the punishment as tame.

MBPP had issued a show cause letter and non-compliance of exhumation permit notice against the landowner who illegally carried out the exhumation of Foo’s gravesite.

The landowner was given a week to reply to the show cause letter. When the reply was received, mayor and MBPP president Datuk Yew Tung Seang said that the council was not satisfied with it.

“As such, we have decided to take the landowner (developer) to court,” he said.

Yew said that the landowner’s reply was that he was unaware about the conditions set out in the exhumation permit.

On September 1, The Vibes had reported Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) treasurer Clement Liang calling for Penang to legislate new by-laws to ensure that artefacts, heritage properties and monuments remain protected – even if they are located on private lands marked for redevelopment.

He said Penang and its two city councils need to do more instead of relying on the defence that historical assets are located on private land.

“Perhaps the monuments and buildings can be reacquired by the state or relocated to an area on public land. We cannot simply be sitting and waiting for it to be demolished,” he said.

Award for beautifying back lanes

Meanwhile, despite the controversy over the issue, MBPP was awarded the prestigious Jean-Paul L’Allier Heritage Prize by the Organisation of World Heritage Cities (OWHC) in Quebec recently for its achievements in creating public spaces through the revitalisation of back lanes in the Unesco World Heritage City of George Town.

Yew described the prize, which is given by OWHC, as an honour.

“We didn’t expect to win this award. After we had submitted our application, we did not know who the assessors were, when they would visit our heritage city, and their selection mechanism,” he said.

“There are over 300 heritage cities in the world. And George Town was one of the 11 cities shortlisted.

“So, the award came as a pleasant surprise. To us, the award is very important not only for the state but for mankind as the world heritage site here is meant for everybody,” Yew reportedly said.

The award is seen as timely for Penang, who will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its Unesco heritage city listing next year.

source – The Vibes


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