GEORGE TOWN, Aug 12 — George Town might be stripped of its Unesco world heritage status due to alleged meddling by a coalition of non-governmental organisations, according to the Penang capital city’s site manager George Town World Heritage Inc (GTWHI).
GTWHI general manager Dr Ang Ming Chee told a news conference today that Penang Forum surreptitiously sent a lengthy 15-page letter complete complete with pictures and appendices to Unesco in Paris alleging “serious and specific danger” to the heritage site.
Penang Forum is a coalition of over 12 local NGOs that includes the Penang Heritage Trust, the Malaysian Nature Society Penang branch and the Penang Consumer Association.
“They sent the letter to the Unesco World Heritage Centre in Paris dated June 23, 2016 but was not copied to Jabatan Warisan Negara, the Unesco state party for Malaysia, or to GTWHI, the authorised site manager,” she said, using the Malay name for the National Heritage Department.
Consequently, the Unesco World Heritage Centre contacted the federal heritage body for a full report in response to the allegations stated in the letter.
Ang said the National Heritage Department subsequently met with GTWHI and Penang Forum on July 29 on the matter, but added that her company “was caught off guard with the news”.
She added that if GTWHI had been alerted to the letter earlier in June, she would have been able to present a full report in response to Unesco when she attended the World Heritage Sessions in Turkey last month.
However, Ang also said any delisting would not be immediate as Unesco would hold numerous meetings to discuss the reasons for developments that caused it to flout its criteria for world heritage sites.
“With issues like these, we will be asked to attend to it and respond to Unesco appropriately while ensuring that we continue to meet the heritage inscription requirements such as keeping the Outstanding Universal Values protected,” she said.
She explained that first, any heritage site at risk would be placed on an endangered heritage sites list.
She said only two sites have been delisted, adding that it was due to voluntary withdrawal by the respective state parties; without disclosing their locations.
She said now both GTWHI and the National Heritage Department will have to prepare reports for Unesco in response to the allegations by Penang Forum.
She said she will be contacting the NGO to obtain official references and sources of the information and assumptions made in their letter to enable the authorities to respond in full.
She believed there may have been some unsubstantiated statements or assumptions made in the letter that needed to be clarified and hoped Penang Forum will explain.
In a letter dated June 23, Penang Forum wrote to Unesco under the subject “Melaka and George Town World Heritage Property: Request for Unesco Advisory Mission and Impact Assessment of Proposed Transport Master Plan.”
In it, the group claimed a “major transportation infrastructure project in Penang” is threatening the Outstanding Universal Value of the George Town world heritage site and specified the Penang Transport Master Plan as a “serious and specific danger” to the George Town heritage site.
It also pointed to Sia Boey, where archaeological excavation works are currently being conducted at the old Prangin Canal, and claimed old structures and archaeological relics have been discovered.
But Ang said it was premature to make assumptions as the archaeological works were still ongoing.
“I have to admit that they have done a lot of work, I can see they have including information and pictures but they must also cite the sources of their information to prove the authenticity,” she said.