Can Malay heritage village status help Penang’s Kampung Mutiara residents save their homes? (VIDEO)

Women in wheelchairs protest against the Kampung Mutiara eviction order together with other residents, August 24, 2015. — File pic
Women in wheelchairs protest against the Kampung Mutiara eviction order together with other residents, August 24, 2015. — File pic

GEORGE TOWN, Aug 28 ― As the Kampung Mutiara residents wait in a limbo for a resolution to their predicament, politicians and several local Malay non-governmental organisations (NGO) are proposing several ways to resolve the issue.

The villagers are facing eviction by the landowner without any compensation and one of the ways to stop this the eviction is to gazette the land as a heritage village, according to local Malay NGOs.

The Penang Malay Association (Pemenang), Ikatan Kelab-kelab Melayu Pulau Pinang (Ikatan) and Pertubuhan Amanah Warisan Melayu Pulau Pinang (Pewaris) had called on the state government to gazette the village as a heritage village under the Penang Heritage Enactment 2011.

“This enactment allows the state heritage commissioner with the approval from the local authorities to gazette the village as heritage village and preserve it,” Pemenang president Tan Sri Mohd Yussof Latiff suggested in a press conference this morning at Pemenang office here.

This enactment is yet to be enforced in the state pending finalisation of the laws by the state legal advisor so DAP's Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari said only the federal government can gazette any land or building as “heritage”.

“If based on the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage's reply to my question in parliament on gazetting Tanjung Tokong as a heritage village, I think it will not be possible for Kampung Mutiara,” Zairil said.

He pointed out that Tanjong Tokong is a much older village compared to Kampung Mutiara and the ministry had said it does not qualify to be gazetted as a heritage site based on the ministry's terms and conditions so it does not look positive for Kampung Mutiara.

Zairil, together with Harapan Baru (HB) Penang pro-tem chairman Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, held a press conference at the DAP Bukit Bendera service centre this morning, also on the Kampung Mutiara issue.

“We want to reassure the residents that we have prepared public housing as a back-up plan for them in case of any forced eviction and the rent for the units will be waived for a period of time,” he said.

The state will also ensure that the residents get priority in applying to purchase low medium cost housing units.

Mujahid said the DAP-led Penang state government is now working on ways to resolve the issue particularly to meet with the landowner for discussions on this.

“Penang HB is willing to also engage with the landowner to assist the residents in any way we can,” he said.

He also reminded all other parties, particularly certain NGOs, PAS and Umno, not to racialise this whole issue.

“There has been some quarters accusing the state government of wanting to get rid of Malays from the island by evicting them from the village when this is not true as the eviction action is by the landowner, not the state government,” he said.

He told them that racialising the issue will only serve to worsen the whole condition and be detrimental to any future discussions between the landowner and the state government on behalf of the residents.

Penang PKR chief Datuk Mansor Othman also issued a statement today stating that the Penang Deputy Chief Minister I Datuk Mohd Rashid Hasnon is already arranging discussions with the landowner for a solution to the issue.

“We feel that there are many other villages like Kampung Mutiara, that is located on private land and may face eviction which is not healthy for the state as it causes unnecessary tension amongst the residents,” he said.

He suggested that the state come up with a pre-emptive plan to ensure a that any residents facing eviction will have a place to stay.

“The state needs to prepare a balanced policy so that the rights of both the landowner and the residents are equally protected and find a holistic approach in resolving issues like this,” he said.

He also said the state must now review the needs for affordable housing especially in the northeast district of the island to meet rising demands.

Last Friday, hundreds of villagers have started standing guard at the entrances to the village to prevent any furtive demolition of their village by the landowner.

On Monday, supporters and politicians from both sides of the political divide ― Umno, PAS, DAP and PKR ― have gathered at the village site to prevent a forced eviction and demolition of the village by the landowner.

The eviction was deferred to an undetermined date after the police advised the landowner not to proceed with the eviction and now, discussions to resolve the issue between the landowner and the state government is still pending.

The landowner bought the 3.5 acre land in 2006 and proceeded to evict the residents without offering any compensation or applying for planning permission for any project on the site.

He had applied to the court to evict the residents back in 2012 and on April 20 this year. A court order asking them to vacate the premises was issued followed by a writ of possession on June 25 and finally, a notice to vacate was issued last month on July 9.

Most of the residents in the century-old village, living in 66 houses, have been living there for a few generations.

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