Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Public awareness about the Atkinson Clock Tower issue is growing among KK city youth, says Heritage Sabah.


KOTA KINABALU (15th Dec 2010): Heritage Sabah, one of several groups opposing a massive 16-storey commercial development proposed to be built just metres away from the historical Atkinson Clock Tower - KK city’s oldest standing landmark – today said society in general underestimates growing awareness among the youth in the city for heritage.

Heritage Sabah volunteers explaining the significance of the historic Atkinson Clock Tower, KK city's oldest landmark

A 10-minute public awareness talk by the group about the historical value of the Atkinson Clock Tower built in 1905, was a feature event during the 2-day Hobbycon 2010 convention held in Citymall Shopping Complex, attended by more than 1,000 people.

- a cosplay enthusiast at Hobbycon 2010 holds up a leaflet of the Save Our Heritage campaign for Atkinson Clock Tower

More than 500 members of the public at the event signed the group’s petition urging the state government to scrap the controversial project, which has caused a public outcry as the commercial project consisting of a shopping mall, offices and hotel threatens to destroy the heritage value of the 105-year-old landmark of KK city.

KK youth crowd lining up to sign the petition

“Majority of the signatories supporting the SAVE OUR HERITAGE campaign during the signature drive on 11-12 December were Sabahan youths between ages of 18-28. What surprised us was that some youths had been walking up to us asking, ‘where do we sign (the petition) even before we went on stage for our presentation’”, said Heritage Sabah group spokesperson Richard Nelson Sokial.

“As it turns out, many of them have been keeping themselves updated with the ongoing development of the Atkinson Clock Tower issue on Facebook.

“This is a pleasantly surprising and encouraging turn of events, not just for the SAVE OUR HERITAGE campaign but also because it gives us hope that the next generation of Sabahans – who are our state’s future leaders and stakeholders – are able to think for themselves and appreciate the importance of preserving our historical landmarks.”

Members of the public signing the Save Our Heritage petition at Hobbycon 2010

The project known as ‘Atkinson Tower’, a joint venture between developer Benteng Pulangan Sdn. Bhd. and Sabah Housing and Town Development Authority (SHTDA) struck a raw nerve with concerned members of the public when the project’s dubious approval was exposed via social network Facebook.

The issue has even led to SHTDA Chairman Datuk Rubin Balang calling for the resignation of Sabah Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Masidi Manjun who questioned the project’s prior approval. Subsequently, the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was rejected.

The developer’s proposal has since been sent back to the Central Board for reassessment. But while Central Board has kept mum on whether to approve or scrap the project, it is widely speculated that the controversial project will proceed as planned.

Responding to this, Sokial said “Many citizens of KK city have voiced their objection to this proposed commercial project next to our historical city landmark, knowing that it will destroy its heritage significance”, says Sokial. “We are also aware that Sabah Museum is opposed to this project. Local NGOs and professional bodies such PAM Sabah Chapter has officially voiced their disagreeance with this project as well, citing several negative urban impacts to the city of Kota Kinabalu.

“Now, even youths of KK are voicing out their opinion against the project. But our past track record in Sabah has shown us that, commercial projects like these tend to get approved despite the public’s objection.

“Thus, in my personal opinion, the general public is cynical about the transparency of the evaluation process for this 16-storey shopping mall. We cannot blame the Rakyat. It is really up to the government to regain the people’s trust and confidence by listening to the Rakyat’s concerns.”

“Unchecked commercial development should not be made at the expense of our city’s historical legacy and our society’s social integrity. The Atkinson Clock Tower area should be developed as a public recreation park, not another shopping mall. This is the right thing to do. We owe it to the next generation of Sabahans. We urge the Central Board to make the right decision”, he added.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Include NGOs in Discussions About Atkinson Clock Tower


KOTA KINABALU (1st Dec 2010): Government meetings on the Atkinson Clock Tower should from now include various non-governmental stakeholders, including Heritage Sabah.

The call from Heritage Sabah comes in wake of the statement made by Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Hajiji Noor for all quarters, including non-governmental organisations, to stop issuing media statements over proposed development close to the clock tower.

Heritage Sabah spokesperson Richard Nelson Sokial said history has taught Sabahans to not to be complacent anymore.

"Many times in the past, we have seen dubious projects suddenly approved and carried on once the public scrutiny has died down.

“The Atinson Clock Tower issue is too important for Sabahans to sweep under the rug. Heritage Sabah respects the minister's request but the media is the only platform for the group to raise public awareness.

“In order to be fair to the public, the Central Board meetings on the clock tower should now start to include the various NGOs. Currently it is a closed door discussion and no NGOs have been invited to share their views and opinions,” he said in a statement issued today.

The Heritage Sabah group formed by concerned citizens of Kota Kinabalu is one of several parties opposing the proposed joint venture project by the Sabah Housing and Town Development Authority (SHTDA) and a private developer to construct a 16-storey shopping mall, a mere 6.3 metres away from the clock tower, one of the last remaining remnants of British colonial administration in North Borneo.

If built, the huge shopping mall-cum-hotel will obstruct views of the city’s oldest existing landmark and may even endanger its structural integrity.

“Since the news of the controversial shopping mall next to the historical 105-year-old Atkinson Clock Tower became public knowledge, Sabahans statewide have become more involved and are keen to understand their local history,” Sokial said.

The group also responded to SHTDA chairman Datuk Rubin Balang’s cynical question attacking Sokial on whether he had helped in cleaning up the clock tower and its maintenance.

“Our supporters have been up to the clock tower and yes, we have tried to clean up its surroundings. However, our volunteers who comprise of citizens of Kota Kinabalu were hampered by the lack of dustbins.

Rubbish near the Atkinson Clock Tower site.

“Where does Rubin Balang suggest we put the collected garbage around the site if none are provided by SHTDA as the landowner in charge of the surrounding area?

“The latest comments made by the SHTDA chairman only goes to show how irresponsible SHTDA is in the face of public enquiry and how he is putting blame on other parties including the Sabah Museum for the unkempt conditions around the clock tower to justify his intent of building this commercial shopping mall,” replied Sokial.

The Atkinson Clock Tower and its pristine hillside date back to the early formation of Kota Kinabalu, then known as Jesselton established in 1899. The clock tower built in 1905, survived bombings of WWII that destroyed Jesselton and has seen it rise from the ashes to become the modern capital city of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

Old photo showing the pristine hill side where Atkinson Clock Tower has stood for 105 years years

Photos of the Heritage Sabah group members and volunteers who have visited the tower’s hillside in weeks following the public’s outcry – posted on the group’s Facebook community page were included with the group’s press release as proof that the volunteers have been trying to promote and clean up the hillside as part of their public awareness drive.

The group’s Facebook community page has amassed over 5,000 fans, many of whom are keenly following posted updates of SHTDA’s controversial joint-venture attempt to build a commercial shopping mall that threatens to dwarf KK city’s historical clock tower, therefore destroying its heritage significance.

Over 2,100 people have signed the group’s online petition, which can be viewed at (www.petitiononline.com/sabah100/petition.html). The group’s Atkinson Clock Tower event page has more than 8,000 supporters.

“Those involved in pushing for this shopping mall to be built have underestimated how the KK public feel about their city’s enduring landmark and dared to proceed on without proper public consultation.

“Thank goodness for Facebook – otherwise the public would probably not have been made aware about the existence of this project until it was already halfway completed! Additionally, the public is shocked and unhappy about how the massive commercial project was initially approved without going through the normal approval process and how its insensitive design diminishes the clock tower’s significance.”

“The Heritage Sabah group thanks these knowledgeable members of the public who have spoken up and shed some further light on Sabah’s local history, and we hope that they will help encourage more people to sign our petition against the mall,” said Sokial.

“Be part of this public campaign to save the site of our city’s landmark,” he added.

Since news of the controversial project broke, SHTDA’s joint venture partner, BentengPulanganSdn. Bhd. has allegedly shut down their website (www.atkinsontower.com) promoting the proposed development named ‘Atkinson Tower,’ amid public scrutiny over the project.

Mysterious disappearance of the “ Atkinson Tower” website

Balang in his latest tirade against the Heritage Sabah group on Sunday had also suggested that Sokial was after his position as SHTDA chairman.

Sokial denied Rubin’s implied accusation and clarified that any decision regarding the Atkinson Clock Tower issue - including calling for Rubin’s resignation for his poor showing as SHTDA chairman – had been discussed collectively among the Heritage Sabah group’s committee before the statement was made to the press through its appointed spokesperson.

“Nevertheless, our group invites the public to evaluate Rubin Balang’s comments on this clock tower issue and decide for themselves, his reasons for making such strange remarks,” Sokial said.

Heritage Sabah reiterates its stance that the greenery and pristine hillside surroundings of the historical Atkinson Clock Tower should be respected and the site should be developed as a public recreation park instead of building a 16-storey commercial shopping mall.

Lomo Group supports the ACT Save Our Heritage awareness with photography activities.

“The tremendous show of support from Sabahans, fellow Malaysians and the international community supporting the Save Our Heritage campaign against the proposed mall is a clear sign that the people of Sabah understand the significance of their cultural and historic heritage and proudly want it preserved as an enduring legacy for future generations,” he added.