PETALING JAYA: Malacca’s emphasis on tourism has raised concerns that the historical city’s heritage is being eroded.
Malaysian Heritage and History Club founder Bert Tan said tourism currently decides the fate of Malacca without much thought to preserving the trades and community in the old quarters of the state.
History author Dennis De Witt said Malacca has been exploited for the tourism industry since it was given the Unesco World Heritage Site status in 2008.
“Tourism seems to have taken a front row while heritage conservation has become secondary,” he said.
The National Heritage Department (JWN) said there were four sites on the National Heritage Register List and 46 on the Heritage List under the National Heritage Act.
“Through this recognition, the heritage sites are protected by laws and regulations,” the department said in an e-mail response to The Star.
It said those found guilty of an offence under Section 112(1) of the National Heritage Act face a jail term of up to five years or a maximum fine of RM50,000, or both.
However, De Witt said there was no proper enforcement by the authorities to preserve the heritage sites.
“Otherwise, how is it that we allow the historical engraved slabs at St Paul’s Church to be treated as props by vendors for their souvenirs?” he said.
Tan said Malacca was the only Unesco site where the authorities allow vendors to operate within the confines of the heritage area.
JWN said it was in the middle of amending certain sections of the Act as well as streamlining and tightening the standard operating procedures for enforcement and prosecution.
Cheng Hoon Teng Temple restoration project coordinator Josephine Chua pointed out that the streets of the old town could not accommodate the heavy traffic and large vehicles that pass along them.
“There have been several times where large sightseeing buses almost damaged the roofs of old shophouses along Heeren Street,” she said.
She said the relevant stakeholders should do more to preserve Malacca’s heritage structures instead of developing new tourism products.
De Witt agreed, saying that the funds used for the miniature Dutch Windmill and Malacca Sultanate Water Wheel could have gone towards encouraging heritage activities by traditional traders, event organisers and museums.
Historian and geographer Serge Jardin said people visit Malacca for its old world charm.
“Mass tourism is both a blessing and a curse. A balance is needed,” said the Frenchman who has lived in Malacca for 14 years.
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