Civil society shut out of swiftlet guidelines formulation

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The environmental disaster in the making now will only accelerate in pace if the State does not begin to act and remove swiftlet farms from urban and heritage areas, warns Rebecca Duckett, in an open letter to Penang state leaders.

Dear Chief Minister, YB Chow and Puan Maimunah, Ladies and Gentlemen

It has come to our attention that the 1GP (The Swiftlet Industry Guidelines) is in place. Within these guidelines, it is stated that in regards to heritage buildings, the decision to allow or not, swiftlet farming in heritage buildings lies in the hands of the Department of National Heritage, the JPV, the Jabatan Perancangan Bandar dan Desa Semenanjung Malaysia and the Swiftlet Association.

It is unacceptable that local authorities, NGOs, stakeholders or residents in the heritage buildings and zones have no say in this. It is also unacceptable that the Swiftlet Association is involved in this decision process and that the other bodies can be influenced directly by them.

The guidelines continue by saying that it is acceptable for the farms to carry on until this combined body comes up with a decision. It has to be noted that any delay in a decision will lead to an even greater increase in the bird population and creates an even larger problem to deal with. The birds reproduce at quite a rate and it is important that the population increase is halted now, sooner than later, to avoid added problems for removal. One bird can produce up to six young a year so the population increase is phenomenal.

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It is worthwhile to note, however, that under section 4.2.1 Kawasan Bandar, the guidelines state that farms in urban areas have to be a minimum of 50m away from residences. This clause allows the State to act immediately to remove swiftlet farms within 50m of any residential homes and areas within George Town. The State can act on this clause first, shutting down farms near homes or premises with people living, working, eating and residing in them. It is also important to get the definition of residence sorted out as it should include offices, restaurants, hotels and any building where a body of people reside or work for any length of time. This is for purely health and safety measures.

The environmental disaster in the making now will only accelerate in pace if the State does not begin to act and remove swiftlet farms from urban and heritage areas. The Unesco listing is at stake. Public health and safety are at risk. The swiftlets will gradually move out to the rural houses being built now and this will directly benefit the rural swiftlet farmers. This is a matter of time and starts to happen within two months as I have seen from direct experience when I shut down an illegal swiftlet farm in my property in George Town. It took two months before the birds moved to other houses. It proves that they will move. I would also like to forward that we have won our case against this particular swift farmer, an illegal tenant, and we are now considering demanding compensation. It has taken us nearly two years with no help from Council or the State to do this.

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We would implore you to act on the statements within these guidelines now and not waste time because until the State acts boldly, the guidelines have no value as a tool to improve conditions in this Unesco World heritage Site. We support your call for a Cleaner, Greener Penang.

Rebecca Duckett

Council member, Penang Heritage Trust

Resident of George Town

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