Deputy minister pushes for joint Unesco listing on hawker culture despite Singapore silence

Bakhtiar said getting recognition for hawker culture is not a priority for Malaysia, which had nominated other heritage arts and culture for recognition. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Bakhtiar said getting recognition for hawker culture is not a priority for Malaysia, which had nominated other heritage arts and culture for recognition. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

KUALA LUMPUR, May 9 — Putrajaya has not received word from Singapore on its suggestion for joint Unesco recognition for their shared hawker culture, Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik has disclosed.

The tourism, arts and culture deputy minister told Straits Times that he had personally raised the matter with the island republic’s deputy high commissioner to Malaysia last month and plans to follow up on the matter directly with Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann next week.

“So far, I don't have any requests from Singapore to do a joint nomination. I highlighted this to Singapore's deputy high commissioner when he visited me but he didn't come back to me. So I take it that they will go on their own,” the Balik Pulau MP was quoted saying.

Bakthiar is scheduled to attend the Asean Socio-Cultural Community Council meeting on May 17 in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

“Maybe if I can see Sim Ann, then I will casually ask her and convey to her,” he told the Singapore daily.

Bakhtiar was also reported saying he had not received any formal request from the Penang government for a shared Unesco listing on hawker culture endemic in both Malaysia and Singapore, contrary to news reports.

Penang Tourism Development, Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin said on May 2 that he had sent a letter to both the deputy tourism minister’s office and the National Heritage Department to request a recommendation for the joint listing.

Though stressing that every country has a right to nominate its own heritage for Unesco listing, Bakhtiar said it was better to have joint bids rather than submitting multiple documentations for the United Nations body to review.

However, he said getting recognition for hawker culture is not a priority for Malaysia, which had nominated other heritage arts and culture for recognition.

“Hawker (culture) is not a priority. We have so many things because Malaysia is well-diversified," Bakhtiar said.

He also assured Malaysians not to worry over Singapore’s nomination, as it does not stop other similar hawker culture from being recognised by Unesco, citing Indonesia's decision to proceed with its own nomination for Malay martial art silat as an example, despite Malaysia proposing a joint nomination.

At the Penang legislative assembly last Thursday, Machang Bubuk assemblyman Lee Khai Loon pressed the state government to be more aggressive and not lose out to Singapore in applying for the Unesco recognition of local hawker culture.

He said the Penang government should apply for the recognition directly instead of seeking joint nomination with Singapore.

However, only direct member states of the UN can apply for the heritage recognition — which is seen to give a huge filip to tourism.

In Malaysia, Penang and Melaka share join Unesco recognition of their heritage cities.

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