Sarawak drafting new Heritage Law

Dato Sri Robert Jacob Ridu

By Peter Sibon

KUCHING, Jan 9: Sarawak is drafting a new Heritage Law to better protect, conserve and preserve the state’s rich heritage.

Sarawak Heritage Society president Dato Sri Robert Jacob Ridu revealed that SHS had been invited to provide input for this initiative.

“At the invitation of the Sarawak government, SHS will provide input to the drafting of the proposed new Heritage Law, which the government plans to table sometime this year,” Robert told DayakDaily at his residence here on Monday.

He added that ever since he helmed SHS, his committee started several initiatives to preserve the state’s heritage.

“One of our initiatives is the ‘Heritage Quest’ campaign, where we invite members of the public to help us identify heritage assets that they feel should be protected.

“So far, we have received over 200 heritage submissions of sites, objects or intangible heritage throughout Sarawak,” he said, adding that a panel would then screen the submissions with the objective to get the significant ones officially gazetted as heritage.

He said once a site is gazetted under a certain heritage category, specific rules apply for its conservation or development.

“For example, if a building is classified under Category 1, it can only be modified based on the original concept. Then, we have the Category 2, Category 3 and so on. We need a new law to do this properly,” he emphasised.

Robert holding up a poster of SHS’ ‘Heritage Quest’ campaign at his residence in Kuching.

Robert reiterated that it was high time for Sarawak to have a clearly stated policy on its heritage.

“We have not had a clear policy and strategy on heritage in the past. Heritage management is so far under the Museum Department and only a very limited number of heritage assets have actually been gazetted as heritage under our present Cultural Heritage Ordinance” he said.

Robert pointed out that Sarawak’s Cultural Heritage Ordinance is outdated and that there is a need for a modern legal framework for the heritage sector.

“Not only is our Heritage Ordinance outdated but also the mechanism to guide the way heritage should be preserved and conserved as well as enforcement is weak,” he stressed.

Robert, who is a former Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly, explained that heritage is like one’s DNA.

“Heritage is where you come from. It’s like your DNA and the character that you have.

“It is what has been passed from the earlier generation; the tangible and non-tangible heritage. Tangible heritage includes buildings, monuments and the material symbols that we have in Sarawak. The non-tangible ones are our traditional crafts, trades, foods, songs and dances” he said.

Robert added that parts of Sarawak’s rich heritage came from civilisations such as during the era of Srivijaya, the Brunei Sultanate and the influences from the Malay Archipelago.

“And all these have contributed to crafting the special identity of Sarawak,” he said.

Meanwhile, Robert said Kuching could become a ‘smart heritage city’ in due time.

“We are on the right track to becoming a smart heritage city, similar to Penang and Melaka. As a smart city, it means that we can use IT to get information of certain monuments. For example, we could have barcodes on monuments and the people can get information on them by reading it using their handphones,” he explained. — DayakDaily