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Monday, September 27, 2010

Museum’s ‘approval’ for Sabah project surfaces


By Joe Fernandez

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Housing and Town Development Authority (SHTDA) chair Rubin Balang has reiterated that the Sabah Museum had initially expressed no objections to a proposed 16-storey development on a site next to the iconic century-old Atkinson Clock Tower in Kota Kinabalu.

The site is along Jalan Balai Polis at the foot of Signal Hill, Bukit Bendera, a green lung of old colonial houses and the Istana which rises within easy reach of the shoreline.

Balang disclosed that a no-objection letter was even issued by Jamdin Buyong, the predecessor of Sabah Museum director Joseph P Guntavid. The catch is that the letter (MUS:05/08/Vol.1) was made out to the SHTDA on Jan 10, 1996, that is, 14 years ago.

“We are surprised that Sabah Museum never referred to the letter,” said Balang. “Guntavid is creating a negative perception about us among the public.”

Balang said he “did not lie” as implied by Guntavid. “He forgets that there were other directors before him.”

Baling was commenting on a statement last Friday by Guntavid pointing out that the Sabah Museum had conveyed its strong reservations on the proposed development to SHTDA on Aug 12, this year, in writing.

Balang stressed that he was merely talking about the chronology of events when he claimed that the Sabah Museum had no objections to the proposed SHTDA development.

Government reserve

Sabah Museum, in its 1996 letter, according to Balang, advised the SHTDA that the Atkinson Clock Tower had been recognised as a government reserve under its jurisdiction from Sept 27, 1983. The monument was protected under Section 19 (a) of the Artifacts and Treasures Enactment 11/77. Sabah Museum, therefore, hoped that the SHTDA would ensure its proposed development “would not have a negative effect impact on the 105-year-old structure”, Balang added.

“So, it was based on this letter that SHTDA has agreed to pursue with the commercial building and assured that the clock tower would not be disturbed,” explained Balang. “A joint-venture agreement was later signed between SHTDA and a contractor.”

The Sabah Museum letter of 1996, Balang said, made no mention of any objection to the proposed SHTDA development.

Balang said that he was willing to meet with NGOs who are strongly opposed to the proposed SHTDA development. The NGOs have since gone on the warpath with a signature campaign.

Criticism against the proposed project is currently raging on the social network site Facebook.

He noted that the NGOs are complaining that the proposed development, once completed, would obstruct the view of the clock tower. The clock tower, he said, was already being obstructed by one huge tree and the jungle even without any building next to it.

“The NGOs are only listening to one side of the story,” said Balang. “SHTDA welcomes the NGOs to come and see us so that we can give them accurate information and clear up their misconceptions.”

Balang said as the current chair of SHTDA, it was his responsibility to “look into all the joint-venture agreements under SHTDA authority”.

“I believe that SHTDA, despite being a government agency, has to generate its own revenue,” said Balang. “So, all these joint-venture agreements must be carried out.”

Proper channels

The project was being undertaken on land owned by the SHTDA and the authority had given an assurance that its plans would not affect the clock tower, he said. “If the Sabah Museum really valued the clock tower, why isn’t it taking good care of it?”

He said he had “no vested interest” in the controversial proposed development. He did not touch on the widespread public speculation that others in the state government had a vested interest in the project. “I only want to clarify my earlier statement so that it will not be misconstrued by the people and other parties,” said Balang.

SHTDA general manager, Jenar Lamdah, advised all those concerned about the Atkinson clock tower not to debate the proposed development in the media.

“There are proper channels to discuss the issue,” said Lamdah, without elaborating. “Both Sabah Museum and the SHTDA are government agencies and have their respective roles to play.”

“The statement by Guntavid that we have never discussed the project is not true,” said Lamdah. “The project consultants had recently contacted Sabah Museum to get information on the mitigation measures to be taken when the project commences.”

He disclosed that the Sabah Museum had sent the SHTDA a letter dated July 23, 1997 pertaining to the safety aspects of the clock tower. Subsequently, the authority took nearly over 13 years to comply with all the requirements stipulated by the various agencies including the Sabah Museum.

Guntavid was not immediately available for comment.

A Sabah Museum source said that the director’s letter dated Aug 12 this year to the project consultants, Chemsain Konsult Sdn Bhd, had overtaken previous letters, if any from it, on the proposed development.

The Sabah Museum only had the opportunity to view the proposed development plans for the first time on Aug 19 this year, the source said, “and reiterated its strong reservations of Aug 12 on the project”.

The museum wants the project to be either scaled down considerably or be relocated elsewhere. At present, no building here is taller than 12 stories. The proximity of the Kota Kinabalu International Airport is one reason.

Heritage Sabah (HS), a newly-formed ad hoc NGO, has charged that the proposed development will also involve hill-cutting and tree-felling in the Signal Hill area. The group wants the entire proposed project site to be acquired by the state government and turned into a public park.

The wooden clock tower has a series of steps linking the town centre to the observatory overlooking the city on Signal Hill. The Atkinson Clock Tower is one of only two pre-war structures here that survived World War II. The other is the structure now housing the Sabah Tourism office along Jalan Gaya.

courtesy of FMT

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