Speech by Mr. Lim Guan Eng, The Chief Minister of Penang in Launching Ceremony for George Town Heritage Celebrations 2016 , 7 July 2016, Armenian Park, George Town
A very good morning to all of you and welcome to the Launching Ceremony for George Town Heritage Celebrations 2016.
I would like to commend George Town World Heritage Incorporated and the working team of George Town Heritage Celebrations 2016 for putting this together with the 11 existing and 9 new partners from the local communities. Their contributions and participation in this annual affair is integral towards its success by giving us the opportunity to showcase the diverse culture and heritage of George Town.
I also wish to thank the City Council of Penang Island, Penang Global Tourism, Malaysian National Commission for UNESCO, and George Town Festival; for extending their assistance in one way or another towards this celebration.
On 7 July 2008, we were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with Melaka based on three Outstanding Universal Values – each of which defines the historical significance of both the tangible and intangible heritage found in the city. Our unique architectural and cultural townscape is unparalleled anywhere in East and Southeast Asia – as pronounced by UNESCO – but my personal belief is that the true gem of George Town is our living heritage, and the ability of different faiths and cultures to co-exist in harmony and to respect one another mutually.
This celebration of diversity is the basis of the basis of George Town Heritage Celebrations. The Penang State Government, together with the communities living here, would like to keep this alive, year in and year out. We are committed to preserve and retain our heritage – tangible and intangible – because by understanding our past, we can be better connected to the present so as to face the challenges of the future.
Just last month, the Penang State Government announced a RM10 million plan to rehabilitate and transform a row of dilapidated buildings along Victoria Street into a centre for traditional trades and creative workspace to nurture the talents of both the past and the future under one roof. The traditional trades reflect the once bustling hive of George Town as a commercial hub and a significant port of call in this region, and we would like to recognise this by creating a space for the trades to continue their stories, and to inspire future talents which will create a new dimension for these trades.
The state government is also proposing legislation to reinstitute a version of rent control or restriction of pre-war shophouses within the George Town Heritage site to prevent gentrification such that original inhabitants are not driven out by high rents. Whilst we respect property owners’ rights, owners of such heritage pre-war shophouses within the heritage enclave have a special responsibility to ensure the living heritage can continue to exist.
The state government will have full public consultation and feedback before implementing these proposals. We are however mindful of our existing legal authority and jurisdiction. Whilst rent restriction is a state power under Schedule 9 of the Federal Constitution, the Federal government had invoked Article 76(4) to abolish Rent Control Act in 1997 to ensure uniformity of laws in Malaysia. In the nineties, all states including Penang, had assented and surrendered their powers to the Federal government to abolish rent restriction and led market forces decide. Whilst we sort out the legal intricacies whether the state has legal authority to do so now after vacating our powers then or whether we need to petititon to the Federal government to act on our behalf, there is a need for a prior consensus as much as we can possibly arrive at amongst all stakeholders. YB Chow Kon Yeow will handle the public consultation and feedback whilst YB Jagdeep Singh Deo will handle the legal issues.
On top of this, the proposed Penang Arts District to a much bigger space in Ghat Leboh Nordin to accommodate the ever-growing arts community in Penang – and to position us as a hub for the arts, culture and heritage in this country. We hope that the nearly RM50 million investment required can also be sourced from the private sector.
Further we are proud of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has evaluated George Town as significant and worthy to be considered a partner through a Memorandum of Understanding with us to assist Penang to preserve, protect and promote George Town. The memorandum serves as an acknowledgement and endorsement by AKTC – an acclaimed international body – towards the potential of Penang, as well as the unique Outstanding Universal Values of George Town World Heritage Site.
The RM27 billion Penang Transport Master Plan will be another breakthrough in our sustainable development of an efficient and effective network of public transportation – connecting both people and places together so as to create a liveable city with high quality of life. Each of these plans by us is developed with the community in mind, because they make the city and inject the spaces with life and purpose. It is also for this reason that we would like to celebrate the communities and their cultures – and to appreciate the things that define them – one such as simple as games and sports.
UNESCO recognises the significance of traditional sports and games as an opportunity for the community to demonstrate its interpretation of life and the world, and that they are a priceless part of humanity’s cultural heritage. They serve as constant reminder to us that our practices, whether contemporary or traditional, leisure or labour, even routine or irregular, remain strongly rooted in our valuable traditions – and that they function as foundations for us to build the future together.
Today marks the 8th Anniversary of George Town’s inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the same time, it is the second day of Hari Raya for our Muslim friends – and I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyoneSelamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Maaf Zahir dan Batin. Tomorrow is a replacement holiday for Heritage Day and Saturday the 9th is the birthday of the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Pulau Pinang – a long weekend holiday for all of us, and George Town Heritage Celebrations 2016 is set to present a line-up of activities which will keep everyone both entertained and educated.
On behalf of George Town World Heritage Incorporated and its event supporters, I would like to invite and welcome everyone to the celebrations this year, and may it be one of the best we have ever seen yet. Remember as custodians of UNESCO George Town World Heritage Site we have a special responsibility not only to Penang and Malaysia but also to all humanity.