Activist booted from closed-door session at Penang heritage conference

Mark Lay of GTHA has been very vocal about the alleged lack of monitoring and enforcement against illegal renovation works in the George Town heritage zone. — File pic
Mark Lay of GTHA has been very vocal about the alleged lack of monitoring and enforcement against illegal renovation works in the George Town heritage zone. — File pic

GEORGE TOWN, Dec 10 — An activist who wanted to raise concerns over heritage issues in George Town was escorted out of a consultancy session at the Unesco conference on heritage site management today despite receiving an invitation to the event from Think City.

Mark Lay of the George Town Heritage Action Group (GTHA) said he had an invitation to attend a four-day conference at Jen Hotel here, including today’s closed-door consultancy session.

“I have an invitation from Think City to attend the conference and also the consultancy session so I turned up this morning to be there to answer any questions the other delegates may have about George Town,” Lay said.

Lay, who has been very vocal about the alleged lack of monitoring and enforcement against illegal renovation works in the George Town heritage zone, turned up for the consultancy session together with another activist, Joann Khaw, at about 9am this morning.

He claimed, however, that he was told at the entrance to the meeting room that it was inappropriate for him to attend the session.

Khaw, however, was allowed to stay on as a representative of the Penang Tour Guides Association.

“I went in anyway as I’ve met with several conference delegates and they insisted I must attend the session,” he said.

The session, attended by various Unesco delegates and heritage stakeholders, was supposed to be a whole-day affair with discussions between Unesco representatives, government officials and experts on the management of world heritage sites.

Lay claimed that even before the session started, Think City director and Badan Warisan Malaysia president Laurence Loh again told him to leave.

“I showed him the invitation letter and he told me that they made a mistake and that he is now ‘uninviting’ me, so they got the guards to escort me from the meeting room,” he said.

Lay said the organisers did not need to turn the situation so ugly, pointing out that he had turned up in the first place because he received the invite.

“If they did not invite us in the first place, I wouldn’t even be there,” he said.

He added that like many other world heritage sites, George Town has its fair share of problems and the authorities should admit to them first before fixing them.

“The three days we have a booth at the conference, we’ve spoken to delegates from other heritage sites and they all said they have problems in managing the site so there is nothing embarrassing to admit that there were issues before it is too late,” he said.

He said George Town can still be saved as it has not been destroyed like Lijiang in China.

“What we need is strict enforcement to ensure all renovation works are done in accordance with the Special Area Plan (SAP) which is yet to be gazetted,” he said.

Lay said the fact that he was unable to raise these issues at the discussion is a great loss to George Town.

The Unesco conference on risk mitigation and natural disaster management and the consultancy sessions on world heritage site management is co-organised by Unesco Bangkok and Think City.

When contacted, Think City chief operating officer Neil Khor said the session today was a closed-door meeting for governmental stakeholders and registered non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

“Joann Khaw who is also with GTHA is here, as she also represents the Penang Tour Guides Assoc. Nothing sensational and as you know, Mark was attending all other sessions,” he replied in a WhatsApp message to the Malay Mail Online.

“Hope you understand as we did not invite the press either. They are a Facebook group so not registered as an NGO. Also they report like the press.” he added.

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