Sabah Opposition claims new heritage law removes oversight shields

Datuk Yong Teck Lee said Clause 4(3) of the 1997 enactment stated that ‘no declaration (of cultural heritage or conservation area) shall be revoked or amended without the prior approval of the Sabah Legislative Assembly given by way of a resolution’. ― Picture via Facebook/Yong Teck Lee
Datuk Yong Teck Lee said Clause 4(3) of the 1997 enactment stated that ‘no declaration (of cultural heritage or conservation area) shall be revoked or amended without the prior approval of the Sabah Legislative Assembly given by way of a resolution’. ― Picture via Facebook/Yong Teck Lee

KOTA KINABALU, Nov 29 ― The recently-passed State Heritage Enactment 2017 has removed crucial protection originally provided for in the Cultural Heritage (Conservation) Enactment 1997, a former Sabah chief minister asserted.

Sabah Progressive Party president Datuk Yong Teck Lee said Clause 4(3) of the 1997 enactment stated that “no declaration (of cultural heritage or conservation area) shall be revoked or amended without the prior approval of the Sabah Legislative Assembly given by way of a resolution.”

“In other words, it is only after a resolution of the assembly has been obtained that the Sabah Heritage Council and Minister may present the proposed revocation of the heritage site to the Head of State (TYT) for consent.

“This protection has now been removed by the 2017 enactment which repealed the 1997 enactment,” he said.

Yong said that the new 2017 enactment does not have a provision to make it mandatory to have the consent of the TYT or the legislative assembly to revoke the heritage status of any site.

“According to the 2017 enactment, the power to revoke a heritage site now lies in the hands of the minister responsible for culture whose decision shall be final,” he said.

“As the saying goes, “don’t throw out the baby with the bath water”. Is this what the government has done?” asked Yong.

Yong said that the idea of having to get a resolution of the legislative assembly beforehand is to ensure a strong deterrent against abuses by the government.

“This is because the process of obtaining a resolution of the assembly will necessarily bring the proposed degazettement of the heritage conservation area into the public arena. This will force the Ministers and officials to explain and defend their decision to revoke a heritage area to the public.

“It is to be expected that media and environmental groups will come to know about the proposed revocation of a heritage site and make their views known. Public opinion or outrage will act as a deterrent against abuses by the government,” he said in a statement here.

Yong said that it was this protection that the the Kota Kinabalu wetlands, also known as the Likas Bird Sanctuary, was “saved” and given enough time for nature lovers to acquire RAMSAR status this year.

A Ramsar Site is a wetland site designated of international importance under the intergovernmental environment treaty established in 1971 by Unesco.

Yong said the enactment also kept other heritage sites like the Atkinson Clock Tower, Chong Tain Vun Park and Padang Merdeka from being torn down or taken away in favour of more development.

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