Sia Boey: Penang Forum responds to criticism of its letter to Unesco


Penang Forum has responded to criticism of its letter to Unesco over the plan to construct a massive transport hub in an area designated as an arts and heritage district.

Penang Forum’s original letter to Unesco can be found here, while the statement in response to criticism of the letter is reproduced below.

Penang Forum is shocked at the vitriol and headline-grabbing rhetoric targeted against us over the letter to Unesco which requested the world body for an advisory mission and impact assessment of the proposed Penang transport masterplan project along the boundary of the George Town world heritage site’s buffer zone.

The attacks against Penang Forum and Dr Lim Mah Hui have helped to distract and divert attention from a highly critical issue confronting our Unesco-listed city – that is the impact the transport masterplan project, which features a major light rail transit and monorail transport hub at Sia Boey, would have on George Town’s heritage.

We are extremely concerned that the construction of LRT and monorail stations in a tertiary zone (zone bordering a buffer zone) of the Unesco-listed George Town world heritage site would pose a risk to its Outstanding Universal Value status.

The chief minister said the construction is not in the world heritage site and hence should not pose any risk. The general manager of George Town World Heritage Inc (GTWHI), the agency entrusted to protect the site, holds a similar opinion.

If they are so confident, then why are they so upset about Penang Forum writing to Unesco asking for a mission to determine the above? They should welcome it and let it be evaluated that there is no wrong.

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What do Unesco’s own guidelines say about such a situation?

In Paragraph 112 of Unesco World Heritage Committee’s Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, it is stated:

Effective management involves … actions to protect, conserve and present the nominated property. An integrated approach to planning and management is essential. This approach goes beyond the property to include any buffer zone(s), as well as the broader setting.

This means that management of a site’s broader setting is related to its role in supporting its outstanding universal value. The proposed projects in Sia Boey by the state could impact the broader setting and its role in supporting the outstanding universal value and hence risk its outstanding universal value status.

GTWHI as the official protector of the outstanding universal value of George Town should be the first to inform Unesco of this project, as is made clear by clause 172 of the operational guidelines:

The World Heritage Committee invites the States Parties to the Convention to inform the Committee, through the Secretariat, of their intention to undertake or to authorise in an area protected under the Convention major restorations or new constructions which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. Notice should be given as soon as possible (for instance, before drafting basic documents for specific projects) and before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse, so that the Committee may assist in seeking appropriate solutions to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is fully preserved.

GTWHI should explain if it has taken any proactive steps to contact and discuss this project with Unesco or even Jabatan Warisan Negara (JWN).

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Doubts have been cast as to whether Penang Forum is justified in writing a letter to Unesco requesting an advisory mission and an independent heritage impact study.

For the record, we note that Unesco has put up a notice on its website, explicitly stating that individuals and NGOs can bring up serious threats in their sites to Unesco’s attention.

“The States Parties to the Convention should inform the Committee as soon as possible about threats to their sites. On the other hand, private individuals, non-governmental organisations, or other groups may also draw the Committee’s attention to existing threats” (

It further urges people to directly inform Unesco’s World Heritage Committee about threats to sites, and it lists contact details of the committee’s secretariat for this purpose.

In fact, Unesco has in the past come down to George Town on other problems – such as on swiftlet breeding and on four planned building projects that exceeded height restrictions in the heritage zone.

Unesco is not an enforcement body like the police. Its main role is to protect the universal-value heritage sites and render assistance when there is a threat or potential threat to a heritage site

What if Penang Forum had not written to Unesco? In that case, if the proposed project has absolutely no impact on George Town’s outstanding universal value, there are no negative consequences. But if there are consequences, George Town would risk losing its heritage status.

Penang Forum is therefore compelled to act to ensure the latter situation is avoided from the outset.

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What is of immense concern is what would happen if the state has already signed and committed with SRS Consortium to build the transport hub and is then faced with a scenario where Unesco finds out that the project endangers the world heritage site.

The state, in trying to save the world heritage status, would then have to compensate SRS for breach of contract. This is similar to the case with the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) having to compensate RM20m to Boustead Holdings Bhd for requiring them to lower the building height to 18 metres after approval was given for a taller building in the WHS.

That is why Penang Forum felt duty-bound to invite Unesco to undertake the inspection and heritage assessment before the state signs and commits itself to a project that could threaten its heritage status.

For the way forward, an initial meeting was organised by Jabatan Warisan Negara with Dr Lim Mah Hui, Penang Heritage Trust, GTWHI, Jabatan Perancangan Bandar dan Desa Negeri, and Penang Development Corporation to discuss this matter.

Unfortunately, GTWHI and the state have now blown this issue out of proportion and side-tracked the progress.

Penang Forum calls on the state, its agencies and politicians to cease all further unjustifiable and uncalled for attacks on Penang Forum, and work together with Jabatan Warisan, Unesco and civil society to resolve this issue.

Penang Forum is committed to rising above vicious rhetoric and staying focussed in our pursuit of transparency, good governance and civil society engagement through reason and through facts.

Penang Forum steering committee
17 August 2016

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  1. EXCO member for Housing and Town & Country Planning Jagdeep Singh hit out at Dr. Lim Mah Hui in a press conference at the Chief Minister’s Office in Komtar on Aug 19.

    Jagdeep pointed out to Dr Lim that he cannot use Article 172 of the UNESCO Operations Guidelines in his letter to Unesco Paris.

    “It is premature to use Article 172. Dr Lim who is a member of the Penang Transport Council (PTC) knows very well. Why did he not disclose he is a member of PTC to Unesco? He has a lot to answer to Penangites why he wrote to Unesco. I have made it very clear in my statement that only when a project has been crystallised, and this has not happened, can Dr. Lim invoke Article 172,” Jagdeep said.


    Article 172 is about Outstanding Universal Value
    The world heritage invites the state party to the convention to inform the committee through the secretariat of their intention to undertake or to authorize in an area protected under the convention, major restorations or new constructions, which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.

      • Teng, Oh & Thor not aware Umno wants them out of Penang front, as they are not able to counter as effective asPenang Forumers’ Gang of 4?

  2. No wonder nothing EVER gets done in Penang. How many more YEARS do Penang People have to SUFFER ? Forever, it looks like !! Khoo Salma, Anil Netto and Lim Mah Hui, who are contributing NOTHING in terms of putting forward a Comprehensive and Inclusive PTMP for the ENTIRE Island and Mainland, can sit pretty and make all kinds of obstacles while the rest of Penang People from all over the state are caught in congestion every day ? And they claim to REPRESENT “ALL” Penang People ?! Penang Forum has put forward it’s JOKE BCF plan which is nothing more then a Tram Catalog filled with Half Solutions and NON Solutions covering only a TINY section of the ISLAND and expect the entire Penang People to support them?! …
    The BCF is so half hearted that it could not even design a tram line map for the mainland. And how about this, BCF fancifully states that “”you can get board a tram in Butterworth and alight in Tanjung Tokong, or board a tram at the airport and alight in Raja Uda””.
    Pray tell, how long will it take me to travel from Butterworth to Tg. Tokong using this slow slow tram ? How is it different from the bus ?
    The teeny tiny half page dedicated to the mainland is made even more pointless, obnoxious, and useless by the gargantuan full color slideshow of trams from around the world. Could the BCF be any more superficial ? That Teeny Tiny half a page dedicated to the mainland out of 60 other full color pages dedicated to the island is a perfect example of how biased, non inclusive and island centric the BCF “Tram Catalog” truly is.If you have taken the time to read the entire BCF document like I have, It talks about congestion charging, It talks about walking and Bicycles, It has about 50 pages of color photos of trams, It has half a page dedicated to the mainland, It has no provisions for future road improvements. It outlines just 2 tram lines covering a tiny minute section of the island yet it calls itself a “Master Plan”, No mention of improving connectivity with the mainland, Basically the BCF is a Tram Catalog. So basically people like hawkers and traders and handymen and people who just have a lot of stuff to carry can go fly a kite if this BCF is implemented. Maybe people should read the entire plan before supporting it.As it stands now, the BCF plan is heavily biased towards the Core Heritage Zone and non inclusive and shuts out people in the north of the island and the mainland.
    It is also heavily caters towards men in Suits who travel to work daily with one teeny tiny laptop, so for people like me who travel to the island for weekly shopping with my aged father and come back to the mainland with 2 big ice boxes of food from Macallum Ghaut and Air Itam market, we feel very alienated by BCF’s and your position on these issues.
    Please try and tailor your future “Master Plans” so that they are more inclusive for the rest of Penang State and try to cater to a wider demographic then just men and women with tiny laptops going to work, thank you.

  3. Penang Forum should foremost focus on the number of private car ownership on the island.

    Less private motor vehicles then no need for LRT or Tram, and the public can use taxis, Grab or Uber should they be in urgency to move around. This should be win-win for all. Good healthy environment of less carbon pollution, healthy lifestyle of walking for short distances once a habit able to walk longer distance with no complaints etc.

      • ah pek has for car pool to be tumpang. any response? no from him since then. what pf did? nothing except complain to unesco

      • New problem for private motor vehicles when they are not running on jammed traffic, as they have problem finding parking spaces in tiny Penang island.
        Don’t believe me? After 8pm you get to see any residential areas filled with parked vehicles all over both sides of streets.

  4. High car density within the heritage zone is an issue.
    The noise generated and carbon emission Are threats to the environment.
    Penang Forum should look into this.

      • Interesting comment on Malaysiakini:

        How many of Mah Hui’s colleagues in the Penang Forum have actually gone to the ground to do their homework for them to gang up against the TMP? I’m sure most of them don’t need public transport like the ordinary man in the street. Have they experienced taking public buses, the dirty taxis of the airport ‘limousine’ service, the mafia behaviour of most normal taxi drivers, to be able to understand the current traffic condition? I doubt they need to as most likely they would be chauffer-driven to be able to feel the desperation of being behind the steering wheel.

        Read more:

      • include the one makes the most noise who drives a 4w with monkey bars and complain mppp did nothing to a traffic when mata2 has more authority. what a sheir¡®


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