On 7 July 2008, four months after DAP’s coming into power in Pulau Pinang, the old part of its capital Georgetown was declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site.
Georgetown, alongside Melaka, were chosen on that day because both demonstrate a succession of historical and cultural influences arising from their former function as trading ports linking East and West.
These are the most complete surviving historic city centres on the Straits of Malacca with a multi-cultural living heritage originating from the trade routes from Great Britain and Europe through the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and the Malay Archipelago to China.
Both are living testimony to the multi-cultural heritage and tradition of Asia, and European colonial influences. This multi-cultural tangible and intangible heritage is expressed in the great variety of religious buildings of different faiths, ethnic quarters, the many languages, worship and religious festivals, dances, costumes, art and music, food, and daily life.
But after nine years, Georgetown will soon lose it all. In 1966 the Alliance government of Pulau Pinang introduced the Control of Rent Act (CRA) to help original tenants in the inner-city area have the rights to enjoy low rental rates for housing, allowing them to continuously reside and practice their trades in the area. The Act was repealed and this led to a drastic increase in rent.
This has led to the gentrification of not only Georgetown, but also the rest of the island side of Pulau Pinang that have chased away those who can no longer afford to live on the island – the poorer Chinese, the Malays and also the Indians, who were the real reason UNESCO granted the status upon Georgetown.
Without the RCA, Tokong’s DAP government is no longer restricted to raise the market price of land within the heritage site and this has led to the redevelopment of areas within the site and selling them to foreigners.
The Tokong does not care for Georgetown’s heritage sites, and this is evident in his attitude towards the preservation of the Sia Boey. The sooner he could sell that piece of land off, the more money is made.
This “don’t-care” attitude of Tokong’s is just like his Underwater Tunnel Project. The reclamation works for the project has gone full swing, yet the feasibility study for it has yet to be submitted.
The RM305 million study, which Pulau Pinang taxpayers paid for some time back, is still not completed. It was back in March this year that the Tokong said it was 87 percent complete.
Today, more than six months later, Tokong still has not submitted the feasibility study to the Ministry of Works.
Tokong will continue to give all sorts of stupid excuses for not being able to submit the report and stretch this until after the next general election if at all possible.
All we know is that while he is busy giving excuses, there would be more land within the heritage site that would be sold.
The clock is ticking, however Tokong knows how to buy more time to be able to make more money by getting rid of the UNESCO World Heritage Site status.