Leave Penampang church grounds alone, says Gagasan Rakyat leader

KOTA KINABALU: A plan to build a cemetery and relocate existing graveyards at the historic St Michael's Church in Penampang district is not sitting well with a local leader.

Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah (Gagasan Rakyat) supreme council member Datuk John Ambrose said a heritage site like the church, built in 1947, should be promoted as a tourist destination and protected.

He said the church, the pride and joy of the Penampang people, should be left as it is.

"But it disturbs me that the district council has consented to the proposal to build a cemetery around the slope of the church," he said in a statement on Friday (Feb 23).

Ambrose was told that the process to change the status for use of the land, which was less than 0.2ha (half an acre) in size, did not follow procedures with the relevant authorities.

He said the site should be left alone as it was earmarked for mission purposes only, and the church had several other pieces of land in the district which could be converted into cemeteries.

"I am concerned that the cemetery project will diminish the historical value of the church, which would be surrounded by graveyards," said Ambrose, adding that it would also involve the relocation of the old graveyards at the left wing of the church grounds.

"It was mostly our forebears who built this church who are buried there. Some have been resting there for more than 100 years (since the missionaries first came to the area in the late 19th century)," he said.

He hoped that the parish council would leave the resting places alone because he was allegedly told it wanted to put the existing remains buried there in a columbarium.

Ambrose said there is no shortage of burial grounds in Penampang for Catholics, such as Lampaki cemetery near Inobong or nearby villages.

"Most villages in Penampang have their own cemetery, and we should leave it as such," he added.

He hoped that the Penampang district council would instead assist in beautifying the church landscape.

Ambrose said the internal facilities of the church had to be upgraded for tourism purposes apart from the convenience of churchgoers.

Adding to that, noting that Penampang is to be upgraded soon to a municipal council, he said infrastructure and places of interest should be upgraded and developed.

"Streetlights not working, as is the case now, should be a thing of the past. The Tamu (weekly local market) in Donggongon is an eyesore and needs urgent repair or upgrade," he said.

Ambrose said cleanliness should also be seriously looked into, apart from other long-standing issues that need to be looked into by the council.

Penampang should come alive at night, especially during festivals, he added, as it has a lot to offer.

He urged the council to take the lead and not just focus on collecting revenue or issuing compound notices.

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