Malaysian World Heritage city to twin: “I divorce you”


Ali Rustam, chief minister of Malacca’s twin-city George Town (in Penang), has “threatened” to seek a declaration from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to officially “divorce” itself as a result of Penang state’s “blunder” over its World Heritage Site status.

“It’s not fair for Malacca to lose its World Heritage status just because the Penang government insists on allowing construction of the four high-rise hotel structures in its heritage zone. They could adversely affect the city’s heritage status.”

In a terse dare, Lim Guan Eng, Penang’s chief minister, accused his counterpart of turning it into a political issue, citing, Malacca has itself added a 110-meter tower project within its heritage “buffer” zone.

“If Malacca wants a divorce, it should just leave,” said Lim. “No one is stopping them. Why should there be double standards when it comes to Penang? With friends like this, we certainly don’t need enemies.”

The Penang state government is adamant in its decision to approve three high-rise hotel projects and a 23-storey condominium project within its recently declared World Heritage Site are within the “guidelines” set by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO.

“Penang would stick with its avowed efforts to promote, preserve and protect its rich heritage,” said Lim, who added, a final decision on the matter will be made after meeting the country’s culture, arts and heritage ministry and UNESCO country representative.

Lim further pointed out that the tallest hotel structure approved will only be 84.4 meters, while the “new” Taming Sari tower structure in Malacca reaches a height of 110 meters.

Anxious to calm and ride out the spat, Shafie Apdal, whose ministry overseas unity, culture, arts and heritage in the country, confirmed that Penang’s core zone covers an area of 159 meters, while in Malacca it reaches an extended area of 200 meters.”Not all parts of Penang and Malacca are designated as heritage zones.”

“What is most important now is to overcome the problem in Penang,” said Shafie, adding the development of a high-rise building in Malacca is in the “buffer” zone and not in the heritage “core” zone. “A divorce, should it materialize, would be a loss to the country, not to just Penang alone. Both chief ministers should instead work together to maintain their heritage status for the good of the country.”

In a glittering ceremony at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur, Hubert Gijzean, UNESCO regional science bureau head for Asia and the Pacific, officially accorded George Town and Malacca its World Heritage Site status.

“The heritage status will now put Malaysia on the world tourism map, ” said Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.