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KUALA LUMPUR: A NEW law to declare certain locations, such as forests, jungles and open land, as heritage sites is being proposed.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said a working committee comprising representatives of his ministry, the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club (BNBBC) and Khazanah Nasional had been working for the past eight months to come up with a module.

He said the team was looking at international modules used by the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. This was to ensure that the country’s important heritage and historical locations were maintained and recognised.

“We are now in the process of preparing this law for this purpose; we are talking to various stakeholders. It will then come to our ministry for review and be sent to the Attorney-General’s (A-G) Chambers to determine whether it can be brought to Parliament or not.

“If the A-G passes it, we are hoping that the law can be enforced by 2018,” he told the New Straits Times recently.

Wan Junaidi said the law allowed the Tourism Ministry to recognise only buildings as heritage sites. But the proposed new law would empower his ministry.

Asked about the difference between gazetting an area and declaring it a heritage site, Wan Junaidi said the state government held the right to gazette an area as a forest reserve.

“The laws we have on heritage sites are for buildings, or if a specific area has an important building that needs to be preserved. Open spaces and land belong to the state, for example, Fraser’s Hill. The state needs to give consent whether to gazette it or not.

“If they do not agree, then there is nothing we (the ministry) can do about it. It is clearly written in the Constitution,” he said.

On the situation in Fraser’s Hill, Wan Junaidi said a technical evaluation must be made to determine its importance and safety.

“As of now, the only thing we can do is to push it to the Tourism Ministry to bring it up to the state, and request it to stop the development. My ministry can only suggest because it involves a primary forest reserve.

“The state will decide whether to gazette it or not, but they can, at any time, choose to degazette it, too. That is the issue we face now. The state has the upper hand,” he said.

Wan Junaidi said he believed the public and stakeholders from both sides of the political divide would support the legislation, adding that he also personally sat in the committee and technical meeting several times.

The meetings, he said, included BNBBC chairman Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad and Khazanah Nasional Bhd managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar.

Wan Junaidi said he was told by Pahang Forestry director Datuk Mohd Paiz Kamaruzaman that the area approved for land clearing and mining was not in the primary forest reserve, but on state government land.

“From the conversation I had with the director, it can be concluded the whole area that has been highlighted is actually licensed for mining on state government land, and not on primary forest reserve land.

“The question now is whether it is proper to mine in the area? That decision is controlled by the state,” he said.

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