The weather for the past week has been like a roller coaster. One moment it is hot, the next it’s raining and then it becomes hot again. Probably it signifies the change of weather from the El Nino to the La Nina phenomenon as reported by the Meteorological Department.
The same happens in the Penang State Assembly which we see an “unpredictable weather”. It was a normal debate on the state’s public policies, and suddenly a heated debate started. The two leaders from both sides of the bench were debating over a Taoist shrine in the Armenian Street Park. I was listening to the debate on that specific day, and it was a really long debate.
The DAP lawmakers were claiming that the UMNO state leaders suggested to demolish the shrine and the issue was reported over the news media as well.
On the other side of the bench, the opposition leader, Dato’ Jahara stated that she never mentioned the word “demolish” or “roboh” in her debate. The hansard of the state assembly is a strong prove to that. She was merely suggesting relocating the shrine to a more suitable place.
I am not for or against any of them in this issue. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has raised his stand over protecting the heritage value of the shrine. He is not wrong; heritage has been a huge value in our city. Dato’ Jahara was not wrong as well when she mentioned on the modern values in a modern park design. She was trying to debate on the design of a public park rather than specifically on the relocation of the shrine.
To me, what went wrong was the nature of the debate itself. The state assembly is a prestigious hall for the elected representatives of the people to draft and make laws of the state. In one of my previous article, I have mentioned that until today specific plans, guidelines and papers were not gazetted. What happen to the Penang Structural Plan, Special Area Plan, housing development guidelines and many more? It’s either not gazetted yet or it was not executed. The Penang State Assembly should have raise on these instead.
Now don’t get me wrong. Solving this shrine issue is an important issue; but it should not be debated in the State Assembly. Rather, this issue falls on the responsibility of the local government. The Speaker of the DUN should also explain why he accepted the debate question and not other more important topics such as limiting the terms of the Chief Minister.
In the debate, Lim Guan Eng has also proudly stated that he is protecting and preserving the heritage value of the shrine which is about 70 years old. His words and emotions were so strong that many would have believed that he is a fighter for the heritage of Penang.
But if Lim Guan Eng was so concerned about the heritage value, why hasn’t he spoken out on the demolishment of Runnymede, Soonstead mansion, Khaw Sim Bee mansion, Balik Pulau market and the Prai old market? These buildings are more than hundred years old. They definitely are equivalent or have more value compared to the shrine when it comes to heritage.
What about the trees and hills of Penang that has been destroyed? Trees may be very common to many, but these trees on the hills are hundreds or may be thousands of years old. It is part of the heritage of Penang as well. When destroyed, it would take another hundreds of years to grow it again; unlike buildings which we can build easily.
Looking back at the debate, one should re-think, what are the real stand of the DAP lawmakers who are the government of the day when it comes to different issues? Do they only raise issues which benefit them politically? Do they really pay attention to important issues that affects the people?
We understand that politics being politics and that politicking exists in our circle of life, but it should be limited to a certain extent. When it comes to governing the state and the nation, politics must be minimized.
In this particular shrine issue, I think we must retain the tokong in Armenian Street, but we must relocate the “Tokong” back to Melaka.
This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 20th May 2016.