The Fall of the Straits Settlements?

Last night, I wrote a bit about how Georgetown may lose its UNESCO Heritage Site status. Tonight, I shall write a bit more and tell you what impact should such event take place.

If you can recall I wrote that Georgetown in Pulau Pinang, and the City of Melaka in Melaka, were bestowed UNESCO Heritage Site status on 7 July 2008.

Unlike Pulau Pinang, Melaka is certainly proud of its UNESCO Heritage Site status

The application for the status was first made sometime in 1998 but failed to achieve the status as the documentation was not proper.

If I recall correctly, the Federal government had to step in through its Jabatan Warisan Negara (National Heritage Department) to properly structure the application to UNESCO.

In January 2007 the Nomination Dossier was submitted. In July, the official acknowledgment from UNESCO was received.

This followed a visit by officials from the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to Georgetown and Melaka between 24 to 31 August 2007. They include Professor Yukio Nishimura who is from the Department of Urban Engineering, University of Tokyo.

The Baba Nyonya and Portuguese heritages as well as their society is preserved by the Melaka government

Since being bestowed the status, Melaka took the necessary steps to ensure that the descendants of the historical Melaka people, its customs and sites remain preserved with very little restoration modifications done.

One can almost imagine Portuguese and Dutch soldiers walk upon the grounds of this church on St John’s Hill, Melaka

Both Melaka and Georgetown are similar in many ways. Some parts of both cities are time capsules of eras that have passed, eras that played a huge role in shaping the two cities. But that is where the similarities end.

In Georgetown you can hardly find the original people. Although the clans still have their presence there, only the richer ones remain on the island while poorer ones have moved to the mainland.

Gone are the sundry shops, the second-hand bookstores I used to frequent along Armenian Street, the old Chinese man weaving rattan baskets and the Malabari newsagents.

While the facade of their shops remain, inside are rows upon rows of boutique hotels and hipster cafes that are owned by foreigners and by that I mean non-citizens.

Pulau Pinang’s adamant stand to fulfill its Transportation Master Plan as wel as the selling of heritage buildings to foreigners also contribute to Georgetown losing its heritage status. Changing the landscape by the reclamation works to build three man-made islands would also destroy Pulau Pinang’s heritage.

Other than having to maintain and preserve historical buildings and sites, multi-cultural tangible and intangible heritage 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 must also continue to be preserved.

Under the guise of development the DAP-led state government of Pulau Pinang is only interested in making as much money as it possibly could.  After all, land is money? Why worry about 40 buildings that nobody could live in when you have preserved five?

But what I am about to tell you will make many become apoplectic with rage – if Georgetown loses its UNESCO Heritage Site status, SO WILL MELAKA.

Yes, the UNESCO Heritage Site status was jointly awarded to both Georgetown and Melaka on 7 July 2008, and the Jabatan Warisan Negara is the body to preserve the sites as per the status. There was one joint-application to UNESCO for both cities.

But with land being a state prerogative, what chances does the department or all Pulau Pinang’s heritage NGOs have? The innocent victim here would be the people of Melaka. If robbed of its status because of the callous behaviour of the Pulau Pinang state government, the romance of showcasing historical sites to tourists in Melaka would be forever gone. So would be the businesses, the trishaw riders, and possibly some of the archaeological excavation sites.

Yes, Tokong’s greed and selfishness will not only destroy Pulau Pinang, they will destroy Melaka too. Does he care? I doubt. The people of Melaka are not going to vote for him next year.

The sun will soon set on Melaka’s UNESCO Heritage Site status because of the Tokong

Making Money While They Still Can

The blood, sweat and tears shed to get the UNESCO Heritage Site status for Pulau Pinang will soon go to waste
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.

The gentrification of Pulau Pinang has led to the poorer people to move out and settle elsewhere. Those who cannot afford to move out continue to live in Georgetown on God’s good humour

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.

How is it possible that works can start before a feasibility study is 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.

It has been six months since the study’s completion was at 87 percent

Today, more than six months later, Tokong still has not submitted the feasibility study to the Ministry of Works.

18 months to do a report? Another six months and I could have completed a Masters in something

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.