KOTA KINABALU (16 May 2011): The Atkinson Clock Tower issue has not been resolved, says Heritage Sabah, one of the groups opposing the construction of a controversial 16-storey shopping mall-cum-hotel in the heart of the city’s last surviving heritage sites.
“Many Sabahans think that because the issue has died down, the matter is resolved”, said Heritage Sabah spokesperson Richard Nelson Sokial.
“In reality, the issue is far from over. If the High Court rules in favour of the developer and its associated partners to build a proposed shopping mall, one of Kota Kinabalu city’s last surviving historical sites will be destroyed.”
Sokial was referring to a judicial review filed by a housewife Lim Swee Geck and social activist Jefferi Chang against the Sabah Housing and Town Development Authority (SHTDA) and Dewan Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu (DBKK) at the height of the Atkinson Clock Tower controversy that began in last year after rumours of a commercial development at the foot of Signal Hill was leaked through social network Facebook. The city of Kota Kinabalu is currently overrun with commercial shopping malls – many with empty, unused shop lot units.
The massive public outcry that ensued over the fate of the historical clock tower prompted Sabah Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Datuk Masidi Manjun to intervene, and subsequently the controversial project’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was rejected by the Environment Protection Department under his ministry.
SHTDA Chairman Datuk Rubin Balang subsequently called for Datuk Masidi’s resignation and claimed that the site of the clock tower was not historical, prompting further public outrage. In a damage control attempt, State Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Hajiji Hj. Mohd Noor requested NGOs and interested parties not to publicize the issue any further.
SHTDA and its activities portfolio are under the Sabah Ministry of Local Government and Housing. The Central Board is responsible for assessing the approval of the controversial 16-storey shopping mall and other development projects is also chaired by Permanent Secretary to the Sabah Ministry of Local Government and Housing.
The Sabah Museum that oversees the upkeep of the city’s 106-year-old colonial clock tower built in 1905, has denied giving any permission to SHTDA for a commercial building to be built next to the 15.24m wooden clock tower – built in memory of Kota Kinabalu (then Jesselton)’s first District Officer, Francis George Atkinson who died of ‘Borneo Fever’ (Malaria) in 1902.
The clock tower is protected under the state’s Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Enactment 1997 and the state’s Antiquities and Treasure Trove Enactment 1977. The historical site was gazetted in 1983.
Meanwhile, public sentiment to save the old clock tower and its surrounding area prompted the formation of group Heritage Sabah urging for the scrapping of the proposed 16-storey shopping mall-cum-hotel. The group launched an online petition to the Sabah State Government to turn the historical site into a city park instead. Support for the group’s online petition (www.petitiononline.com/sabah100/petition.hmtl) has since garnered more than 2,200 signatures to date and with more than 6,000 more fans on their Facebook community page.
Sokial urged the public to be well-informed about the issue and not to be lulled into a false sense of security as the fate of the city’s much-loved clock tower and its hillside are still in limbo. He also took pessimists to task for speculating that the clock tower and its surrounding areas could not be saved due to alleged corruption and abuse of authority by the local government trustees.
“We should give the Sabah state government a chance to rectify past wrongdoings. If the current state government truly has the interests of KK city folk and Sabahans at heart, there is still room for them to do right by the rakyat and turn this historical place into a public park for all – and not another shopping mall,” Sokial said.
The judicial review of the Atkinson Clock Tower case will be held on the 6th June 2011 at the Kota Kinabalu High Court.