War of words escalates over George Town heritage site listing

Modified 15 Aug 2016, 8:46 am

The verbal war between George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) and Penang Forum went a notch higher today, with Penang Forum representative Lim Mah Hui being asked to reveal the contents of his letter to Unesco World Heritage Center in Paris.

GTWHI general manager Ang Ming Chee expressed shock that Mah Hui’s letter to Unesco has put at risk George Town’s status as a World Heritage Site.

She urged Mah Hui, who is also a Penang Island City Councillor, to reveal the contents of the letter in the interest of transparency and accountability.

“Let the people read your claimed act of protecting George Town World Heritage Site. Let the people of Penang judge who is the party that has alerted Unesco and put at risk the George Town World Heritage Site listing status,” Ang said.

She was referring to Mah Hui’s letter on June 23, titled 'Melaka and George Town World Heritage Property: Request for Unesco advisory mission and impact assessment of proposed transport master plan in George Town, Penang”.

Since news of the letter was published, Mah Hui has been accused by various parties, including Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, of allegedly stabbing the Penang government in the back in a bid to sabotage the state efforts in preserving the World Heritage Site, which it was awarded in 2008.

The letter “poured doubts on the validity” of the outstanding universal values to George Town, said Ang.

Ang said Mah Hui (photo) had claimed that the proposed siting of the light rail transit station in 'Sia Boey', along the old Prangin Canal – even though the area is outside the buffer zone of the World Heritage Site – would threaten the state capital's value as a heritage site.

“We are unable to reconcile with the fact that you had surreptitiously filed a complaint letter to Unesco against George Town without informing us,” Ang stated in her letter to Mah Hui, which was sent to the press today.

“This is no different from being stabbed in the back because you are part of the government, being an appointed councillor with the Penang Island City Council, an appointed director of the Penang Institute and also an appointed member of the Penang Transport Council,” she added.

“These positions were appointed by the Penang government and we regret that you did not have the decency to inform us nor reveal in an open, transparent and accountable manner that the state government is conducting the public feedback for the Penang Transport Master Plan,” Ang said.

In the letter to Unesco, Mah Hui had reportedly stated: “Despite many months of NGOs highlighting potential risks to GTWHI… no action has been taken to ensure current planning poses no risks to our heritage site. NGOs' concerns have been dismissed and the potential impact to our historical city has been ignored.”

Ang strongly denied the allegation, describing the statement as “false”, and adding that it had insulted her credibility as GTWHI general manager.

She said that no NGO has approached her formally on the issue of the proposed Penang Transport Master Plan.

She asked the Penang Forum to provide concrete evidence to support such an accusation.

“If you are able to do so, I will resign from all my official positions in the state government for failing to carry out my duties efficiently,” Ang said.

She expressed disappointment with Penang Forum’s statement on Aug 14, saying she expected more constructive response from Mah Hui and the coalition of 12 NGOs where he is a member.

In that response, Mah Hui said Penang Forum submitted a letter to Unesco not to call for George Town’s delisting but to preserve it.

Ang said that as appointed director of the various Penang government agencies, Mah Hui had been given the opportutnity to participate, consult and contribute his views on the Penang Transport Master Plan project.

“Please stop giving Penang people biased statements,” she told Mah Hui.

Ang urged Mah Hui to withdraw the letter of complaint to Unesco, saying he must not allow his personal grievances against the state government to take precedence over the interests of Penangites.

“(These are people) who do not wish to see the World Heritage Site status of George Town being sabotaged by the very people who claim to defend it,” she added.

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