Which of these two is a real treasure worth preserving for its history and educational value, as a tourist attraction, and most of all, as an irreplaceable legacy of the Pearl of the Orient, Penang?
- Pillboxes that were erected at some places on Penang Island for use as defence posts in readiness for World War Two and that can be easily replicated?
- Or the 138-year-old gravesite of Foo Teng Nyong, the third wife of Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Qwee, with a unique design which cannot be replicated (see video above) and much older than some of the structures protected within the George Town Unesco world heritage site?
Plans to develop a piece of land, a part of which was occupied by the grave, had been approved.
The late Foo’s great-grandson came to know of the plans and left no stone unturned to get the Penang Heritage Council and the Penang heritage commissioner to protect the site from demolition due to its historical significance.
By not acting urgently, the authorities tacitly allowed the destruction of the unique grave to be carried out. The authorities must be held accountable for dereliction of duty. Whither Penang’s CAT – competency, accountability and transparency?
Pillboxes are preserved and done up because developers are not interested in the land they stand on.
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But that grave was on land that had big-money value, so it was seen as a hindrance to ‘development’ and had to make way for ‘progress’.
This is not the first time the authorities closed their eyes to the destruction of Penang’s heritage. While Penangites were enjoying their long Christmas weekend in 1993, Hotel Metropole, with a rich history and unique design, was smashed up by a developer.
In 2020 a heritage bungalow in Fraser’s Hill was destroyed. How did this happen? According to the then director general of the National Heritage Department, the department was “never consulted or informed about plans to tear down the heritage building to make way for a resort project”.
This suggests that the department was not invited to the meeting which approved the development plans. Why? Is it because the department would have objected?
Similarly, when shophouses in Desa Jelita, Permatang Damar Laut, in a residential/commercial zone were rezoned as “industrial”, the Department of Environment was not invited to the State Planning Committee meeting that approved the conversion. Again, this was probably because the department would have objected and stifled the rezoning.
So, to approve projects without any objections, simply do not invite the departments directly responsible for that important matter, as they could throw a spanner in the works and derail the project with their objection.