All the hoo-ha over one single letter — James K.

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AUG 15 — I must admit that I am deeply concerned by the overblown reaction of the Penang State Government and Georgetown World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) recently over the issue of just a single letter.

The letter was written earlier this year by Penang Forum (a Penang-based NGO) to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre regarding concerns that physical developments, policies and a transport masterplan that may harm the heritage value of Georgetown. The overblown reaction by the state government raises a few serious questions:

1.  Is writing a letter and merely voicing an opinion to another organisation wrongful in a democratic state like Penang? Must every letter from a Penang-based organisation or individual be vetted by the government before it reaches its intended recipient?

2.  If the state and GTWHI thinks the letter might lose Georgetown its UNESCO heritage status, are they admitting that what they have been doing so far is harming the heritage value of Georgetown, and that the letter is exposing their actions?

3.  The state has always pride itself on transparency and has always stated that it has “nothing to hide”. If there is nothing to hide, why is it afraid of the letter? Why not immediately invite UNESCO representatives over to Georgetown to show them the truth and dispel the concerns raised by Penang Forum, instead of diverting the issue by criticising Penang Forum?

4.  UNESCO is an international organisation under the umbrella of the United Nations. Does the state think that an organisation like UNESCO will strip away the heritage status immediately just by a single letter, without a proper assessment?

These recent developments are worrying in terms of freedom of expression and heritage preservation in Penang. The state must prove its words by action and not talk. Tackle the issue on its head and engage all stakeholders directly instead of being defensive and talking indirectly through the media, which benefits nobody. Allow every citizen to criticise and comment freely without prejudice for sake of the betterment of Penang.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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