Dr Lim Mah Hui, in his personal capacity, has written an open letter to Ang Ming Chee, the general manager of George Town World Heritage Inc:
Dear Dr Ang,
Thank you for your letter of 15 August 2016 to me regarding the George Town Unesco world heritage site status, parts of which were published in the press. I write in my personal capacity and wish to share my reply with the public for the sake of transparency.
1. Kindly allow me to correct your first sentence stating that I wrote a complaint letter to Unesco. This is a misrepresentation. The title of my letter clearly states it is a request, not a complaint, for Unesco to send an advisory mission and to assist in heritage impact assessment.
2. As general manager of GTWHI, you should know that Unesco encourages individuals and NGOs to directly bring to their attention potential threats to designated heritage sites especially when authorities fail to do that. So the question should be why GTWHI did not keep Unesco informed of the Penang state’s plan to situate an LRT line and station in Sia Boey.
3. In a later and different statement you said, this was pure speculation. Again as the GM of GTWHI, did you not know that SRS and the state had applied to SPAD for approval of its plan? Do you regard this action as speculation?
4. You and the chief minister of Penang urged me to disclose my letter to the public in the name of transparency. Penang Forum has gladly posted the letter on its website.
5. I challenge the Penang State government to do the same. Penang Forum has for many months asked the state government to make publicly available SRS’s proposed Penang transport masterplan in full. This can be easily done online. Despite the initial promise by YB Chow Kon Yeow to do that, he still has not delivered on his promise. The lame reason given is the state government has not signed the agreement with SRS. Precisely because of this, the public needs to study the report so it can give feedback BEFORE the contract is signed; not after it is signed. Once again, we call on the state government to fulfil its promise and walk its talk, or forever hold its tongue.
6. You claimed that Penang Forum has not highlighted the potential risks posed to the George Town world heritage site because it has not formally approached you. Let it be said that there are many ways you can be informed of the risks without a formal approach or meeting. Penang Forum has repeatedly highlighted such risks in public forums and in dialogues with state officials, as well as in the Penang Transport Council.
7. You asked for concrete evidence that you yourself have provided. In your letter you stated that you attended a public forum on 24 April 2016 organised by Penang Heritage Trust, a member of Penang Forum’s coalition, that specifically highlighted the above risks. In fact, at the forum, you were asked by a reporter for comments to which you said it was not an issue because the proposed transport hub lies outside George Town world heritage site.
8. As the general manager of the GTWHI, are you not aware of the World Heritage Committee operational guideline that stipulates the need to adopt an integrated approach to manage, protect, conserve not only the heritage site (the nominated property) but also any buffer zone(s), as well as the broader setting? With this new guideline, Sia Boey, being adjacent to the buffer zone and part of the broader setting, could be negatively impacted by the proposed elevated mega infrastructure of LRT.
9. Did you highlight this potential risk to the state government? If not, is that a dereliction of duty?
10. You claimed in your letter to have provided assistance to the heritage impact assessment consultants and participated in the focus group discussion for key stakeholders. In that focus group discussion, Penang Heritage Trust raised many questions and concerns and stated it was highly dissatisfied with the presentation and discussions. (Another concrete evidence of your being informed). As an independent body tasked to protect George Town’s heritage status, why did you not advise the state government to request Unesco’s or Jabatan Warisan Negara’s assistance in finding a truly independent heritage assessment consultant who is not answerable to SRS? Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do?
11. Penang Forum has publicly shared with state authorities the above potential risks. However, all these have fallen on deaf ears and hence it felt duty-bound to bring it to the attention of Unesco with the view that proactive and preventive actions can be taken before things get worse. Thus you cannot accuse Penang Forum of back-stabbing.
12. I hope I have answered your questions and have given the evidence of how you were made aware of the risks and yet did not take action to alert the state, JWN or Unesco. I leave it to you and the public to decide whether you have discharged your duties and should stay on as the general manager of GTWHI.
Dr Lim Mah Hui
23 August 2016