3 Prong Plan To Salvage Our Application For UNESCO Listing As the World Living Cultural Heritage Site Following The Shameful And Criminal Demolition of 3 Shophouses In Jonker Walk

Press Statement
Betty Chew Gek Cheng

(Melaka, Thursday):  DAP welcomes the State government's intention to prosecute the owner responsible for the demoliton of three old shophouses of historical value in Jonker Walk, Melaka. Hopes that the government will fufill its promise to prosecute them under Section 17 of the 1988 Preservation And Conservation of Cultural Heritage Act which provides for fines of up to RM10,000 and jail terms of up to 5 years upon conviction for violating the said Act including demolition of historical buildings.

As Jonker Walk is designated as Zone 1 area and in the forefront of Melaka's efforts to secure a listing of the World Living Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, such demolition can be considered a Category 1 offence to the Act requiring the maximum punishment. Such punishment is necessary not only to protect our cultural heritage and demonstrate the state government's seriousness in preserving them but more importantly a form of remedy to rescue our application for UNESCO's listing.

The second step to rescue our listing efforts with UNESCO is to let the experts and professionals in conservation and cultural heritage take over and do the job to preserve our historical artefacts. For too long we have allowed government politicians who have no knowledge nor academic credentials to mess up our historical heritage in their mindless pursuit of cheap publicity. That is why I repeat my calls to Datuk Gan Boon Leong to resign as Jonker Walk Committee chairman and make way for professionals who can bring Jonker Walk to greater heights. His failure to protect the 3 shophouses from demolition shows that his time is up and highlighted his deficiencies and inadequacies in conservation efforts. Datuk Gan should be man enough, as a former Mr Asia, to admit whilst he is an acknowledged expert on bodybuilding, he is completely at sea when it comes to conservation.

We welcome the transfer of Melaka Municipal Council(MPMBB) Chairman Datuk Mat Sirat bin Abu out of MPMBB. We are however aghast that he is transferred to head the Melaka Muzium Corporation. How can a person who presided over the MPMBB that allowed 9 shophouses to be demolished now head the Melaka Muzium Corporation. 6 shophouse, including the first UMNO office in Melaka, were first demolished in May 2002, and met with complete indifference by MPMBB and without any action against the owner. Now 3 shophouses in Jonker Walk(a Zone 1 area) were demolished and the head of MPMBB gets transferred out. Rightly so, but to head the Melaka Muzium Corporation with such a poor track record at preservation and conservation is gross disrespect and complete disegard for the needs of historical heritage in Melaka.

Worse, Datuk Mat Sirat is in denial syndrome by denying that such demolition will jeorpardise Melaka's efforts to attain UNESCO listing. He further launched an attack in the Malay Mail on 19 December against UN conservation architect Elizabeth Vines labelling her reports as "lopsided, unfair and did injustice to Melaka government". What right as a layman such as Datuk Mat Sirat to make such gratuitious remarks against a proven academic and expert? A layman such as Datuk Mat Sirat making such remarks against a lady is no gentleman and is embarrassing Malaysians to the world!

We support Datuk Mat Sirat's removal as head of MPMBB but strongly oppose his installation as head of the Melaka Muzium Corporation as such a backward step will be a great disservice to Melaka's history. We should choose proven experts and professionals who can salvage the situation and restore confidence that Melaka is finally serious about historical conservation.

Finally the third step to rescue our UNESCO listing efforts is to embark on an education and awareness campaign amongst residents and owners living in historical aeas earmaked for conservation. Even thought the Preservation And Conservation of Cultural Heritage Act was passed 14 years ago in 1988, it has still not fulfilled its role under Section 7(1) to set up programmes and plans to teach the people to be proud of conservation efforts. Education and awareness is the most effective weapon against demolition and promote conservation. Brochures and pamphlets in all languages must be printed and distributed. The government can and must do more.


* Betty Chew Gek Cheng, DAP State Assemblywoman For Durian Daun