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Friday March 11, 2011

PHT: State must preserve memorial heritage Its invaluable treasures will enable historians to trace the history of early settlers in the state

BURIAL sites, memorial monuments, cenotaphs and any tombstones in George Town that are over 50 years old or have significant historical value, should come under the state’s legal protection immediately, said Penang Heritage Trust (PHT).

Its secretary Clement Liang said an inventory of all historical sites, monuments and tombs in the state was also needed.

“Before any conversion of land use from burial to other purposes, there must be public hearings for all stakeholders including neighbourhood residents within a 1km radius, descendants, public interest groups and historians to raise concerns and objections with sufficient time given.

“It’s the obligation of the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) to protect the structures and upkeep the cleanliness of the sites for public interest,” he said.

Liang said cemeteries and memorial monuments were just as important as George Town’s built and living heritage.

Citing the Kapitan Keling Mosque mausoleum, the Air Itam obelix bearing the names of Chinese killed during the Japanese occupation, the Queen Victoria monument in Burmah Road, the David Brown memorial and the cenotaph and Logan memorial at Esplanade as examples, Liang said these were invaluable treasures that needed to be properly restored and maintained.

“If the site or structure is privately owned, the MPPP can impose repair and maintenance fees on the owners if the latter fail to carry out such duties themselves.

“Any illegal alteration, destruction, removal or intentional neglect of the site or structure should be viewed as an act of vandalism to public property and be dealt with heavy penalties,” he said.

Liang urged the council to incorporate existing burial sites as part of town planning for open spaces and green lungs.

“There are many little pockets within the Unesco heritage site and even outside the buffer zone which can be turned into nice green spaces.

“Whether or not a prominent personality is buried there, an old cemetery is invaluable because it enables historians to trace the history of the early settlers in that area,” he said.

In 2004, stakeholders and NGOs including the PHT, protested against the Roman Catholic Church’s exhumation of a late-18th century graveyard in George Town.

Among the notable graves are those of several Infant Jesus Sisters and De La Salle Brothers who were pioneers in education and welfare work in the country.

The nuns included Convent Light Street founder Mother Pauline Marie Rodot and seven other Sisters linked to the school’s early years.

“The exhumation was to make room for a playground for a nearby orphanage.

“This case was a partial win for us because in the end, the graves were left intact,” he said.

Thick City Sdn Bhd (TCSB), a subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional Bhd, had on Wednesday awarded a RM21,600 grant to restore the graveyard to its former glory.

On the recent exhumation at a private Chinese cemetery in Batu Lanchang where Penang’s first Kapitan Cina, Koh Lay Huan, was buried and whose grave is still intact, Liang appealed to the descendants to salvage the tombstones and place them in a proper memorial site.

He also urged the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) not to allow the developer of another ancestral graveyard in Batu Lanchang to continue exhumation work at the place as the descendants of the 47 deceased buried there had objected to the project.

“The descendants of the deceased who included Tan Hup Chui, the founder of Penang Chinese Town Hall, and Lim Ko Seng, a prominent philanthropist, have objected to the exhumation yet work is going on.

“The council must first let descendants exhaust all legal avenues,” he said, adding that the state government must explore the opportunities to develop cultural, historic heritage tourism on these sites and structures with sensitivity.

Improvement on interpretive signages, access paths, landscaping, night lighting, police patrolling and electronic surveillance are necessary amenities, he said.

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