KUCHING: The Sarawak Heritage Society (SHS) is the latest to join a chorus of condemnation of the felling of 11 of the 13 trees at the newly-restored Fort Alice in Sri Aman.
In a strongly-worded statement, the society’s president, Karen Shepherd, called the axing a “wanton desecration” of the historical site.
She said the Sarawak Museum Department must not sweep the matter under the carpet by claiming the axing was a collective decision made with the Resident Office.
It had also come to light key recommendations from conservation architect Mike Boon were expressly disregarded in this case, Shepherd said.
A dead tree on site was earmarked to be chopped down, while the 13 other trees were supposed to be trimmed, not destroyed. Ironically, the dead tree was left untouched.
“Such extreme action, taken by a small group of stakeholders in the project, has caused shock and dismay in the local community,” Shepherd said.
The SHS president renewed calls for the Sarawak government to create a specialised heritage unit tasked with coordinating a multi-agency approach to conservation.
She called existing measures to protect the state’s antiquities and cultural heritage “hopelessly outdated”.
“Even worse, they are rarely ever enforced. It is time for a complete overhaul. The Sarawak government is out of step with governments worldwide – even within Asia – that have better frameworks to protect heritage.”
In Malaysia, the Penang and Malacca governments were leading in conservation, each state with its own specialised heritage unit, she pointed out.
In Sarawak, heritage protection falls under the purview of the Museum Department – specifically under the Sarawak Cultural Heritage Ordinance, 1993.
Citing sections of the ordinance that covered permission over felling of trees within heritage boundaries, Shepherd said the deciding authority was not clearly defined.
What has happened at the 150-year-old Fort Alice in Sri Aman was an example of the system’s breakdown, she said.
She also highlighted other past transgressions, citing the “unsympathetic renovations” of the summerhouse pavilion at the Sarawak Museum Gardens, stripping it of key heritage features.
On a related matter, on the issue of enforcement at heritage sites, Shepherd said it was unrealistic to expect the Museum Department to co-ordinate and supervise the number of agencies that protection involved.
“SHS would like to ask Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem to add heritage preservation to his much lauded list of reforms.
“Adenan is renowned to be a great student of history. SHS calls on him to send a clear message to various departments that preservation of Sarawak’s heritage is indeed important, which needs a dedicated unit giving it the teeth to function effectively.”
Since news broke on the tree destruction, heavy criticism have came from the Malaysian Nature Society and local community leaders.