Can’t limit foreign ownership of heritage buildings, Penang exco says

The Penang state government has no intention to limit foreigners from snapping up pre-war buildings in the world heritage zone. — Picture by KE Ooi
The Penang state government has no intention to limit foreigners from snapping up pre-war buildings in the world heritage zone. — Picture by KE Ooi

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GEORGE TOWN, Nov 15 — The Penang government does not have any intention to table an enactment to limit foreigners from buying pre-war buildings in its world heritage zone, state executive councillor Jagdeep Singh Deo said today.

The housing development and town and country planning committee chairman added that it is not possible to table such an act.

"The building owners have the right to sell their properties and this proposed act contradicts the Federal Constitution," he replied to an oral question by fellow DAP lawmaker Teh Lai Heng in the state legislative assembly here.

The Komtar assemblyman asked if the state government is considering tabling an enactment to stop or limit foreigners or foreign companies from buying up heritage buildings within the George Town world heritage site.

Jagdeep said the state government, through Penang Island City Council and several other agencies including George Town World Heritage Inc, is now studying the possibility of preparing a Rent Regulation Enactment for the heritage zone.

"This study will enable the state government to collate the latest information that included the ownership of heritage buildings according to nationalities.

"The study is to analyse the current situation of the heritage buildings at the heritage site so that the state government can take appropriate steps based on it," said the Datuk Keramat assemblyman.

Teh then proposed for the state government to consider tabling an enactment to increase the minimum property price for foreign purchase of properties in the heritage zone to RM200 million.

"The current minimum property price for foreigners is RM2 million so I propose that the state consider increasing it to RM200 million only for the heritage zone," he said.

Jagdeep said the current state government's housing policy imposed a minimum price of RM2 million for foreign purchases of properties on the island and RM1 million on the mainland.

He said Teh's proposal is one of the ways to limit foreign purchases in the heritage zone but the minimum price of RM200 million will need to be carefully considered.

"As for the original question on restricting purchases by foreigners, this is under the National Land Code and out of the state's jurisdiction so we will need to work with the federal government to see if the National Land Code could be amended to limit foreign purchases," he said.

Earlier, Jagdeep said there have been numerous reports on the alarming increase in rental rates within the heritage zone due to foreign purchases but the state needed to complete its studies first before taking the next step.

"The Penang chief minister and state government proposed the Rent Regulation Enactment because of these reports but we needed to conduct a thorough study to get the actual facts of how many properties are actually bought up by foreigners," he said.

On the legal aspect, Jagdeep said the enactment can be legally tabled by the state but the final decision on whether to table it or not depends on the results of the study.

Muhammad Farid Saad (Barisan Nasional-Pulau Betong) then asked why the state did not make use of its Penang Heritage Act to regulate the rent and foreign purchases of buildings in the heritage zone.

In reply, Jagdeep said the heritage act was only to regulate the management of the heritage zone but could not be used to regulate rent or property purchase within the site.

"There have been complaints of rent increases by 500 per cent, causing original traders to move out of the zone so we have to consider introducing the rent regulation act," he said.

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