Information Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim should provide evidence that backs his claims that Melaka has been more proactive than Penang in promoting heritage conservation since 2008, instead of making baseless attacks that are politically motivated to run down the PR state government. If true, Penang is willing to learn from Melaka’s successes. However, even Rais’ Ministry’s officials have lauded Penang for the work done in advancing heritage since George Town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
At no time did any of Rais’ Ministry officials suggested certain practices that Penang could adopt from Melaka. Rais should not forget that Penang was unfairly deprived of the promised RM25 million funding for being jointly listed with Melaka as a UNESCO World Heritage. Whilst Melaka state government received RM 30 million, Penang state government got nothing. And yet we are criticized by Rais himself for not doing enough for heritage conservation.
Despite such discrimination, Penang has made progress in five key heritage areas. Firstly, establishing George Town World Heritage Incorporated(GTWHI), a specialized body to tasked to preserve, protect and promote heritage conservation. Penang state government has also appointed professionals who are architects and town planners in the GTWHI. The General Manager of GTWHI, Puan Maimunah binti Sharif’s expertise has been recognized until she was selected by Rais Ministry to represent Malaysia in UNESCO conferences.
Secondly, Penang has also commenced the the country’s first annual Heritage Festival in July. The inaugural month-long Festival this year was a tremendous success at a cost of only RM 1.1 million. Thirdly the Heritage Technical Review Panel to vet planning approvals to ensure that it conforms to heritage guidelines, comprised mainly members from professionals bodies, has been functioning for a year.
Fourthly, the state government had given full co-operation to Rais Ministry and invited them to participate jointly in our heritage conservation initiatives. At the same time, GTWHI have been instructed to participate in Rais Ministry events and Puan Maimunah be in attendance for Rais when he visits Penang. Fifthly, the state government is allocating RM 3 million for heritage conservation for 2011 Budget.
For this reason, Rais’ allegations of lack of commitment to heritage conservation from the Penang state government and also lack of co-operation and with the Federal government is groundless. Rais should listen to his own advice by not politicizing heritage conservation but treat Penang equally with Melaka in terms of funding. Rais should co-operate rather than confront, respect each other’s expertise rather than try to bully, as well as seek truth from facts and not distort truth and ignore facts.
Rais should realize that heritage conservation is an important symbol of our country’s national pride and dignity. It is this national consideration that has caused Penang state government to refrain from complaining to UNESCO about such discriminatory and unfair treatment by the Federal government, when we have every justification in doing so.