Singapore Government Press Release
Media Division, Ministry of Information and The Arts,
36th Storey, PSA Building, 460 Alexandra Road, Singapore 119963.
SPEECH BY MR YATIMAN YUSOF DURING PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES ON 6 JUL 99
The Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Information and the Arts (Encik Yatiman Yusof) (In Malay):
Mr Speaker, Sir, thank you for giving me the opportunity to join in the debate. I support the proposed Sultan Hussain (Amendment) Bill 1999 tabled by the Minister for Law and wish to give my opinion on the Malay Heritage Centre project.
The Minister for Law, in his speech in Parliament on 15th April, mentioned about the new payment scheme under the Sultan Hussain Ordinance. Today's debate is held to pass the Ordinance. I support that this scheme be enforced for the benefit of its recipients.
I am happy when I heard the Minister's statement that the majority (64 people or 81%) of the descendants had informed the Land Office that they had opted to receive lump sum payments. I believe they have made careful consideration on the advantage of the option over annual payments. The increasing number of descendants and inflation have caused the annual payments to decrease to an insignificant sum. They must have definitely considered this point.
Mr Speaker, in my opinion, the offer under the new scheme is very attractive, especially on the lump sum payment option. At a rough estimate, the payment under the new scheme, if paid annually, will total about $10.5 million. (This is based on an annuity of $350,000 annually for 30 years.) If shared among 79 people, it means every person will receive about $133,000 each. We are also told that a majority of them do not even live in Singapore. (If some of them live in Malaysia, this means that they will receive about RM$295,000).
The amount is not small. I am confident that such a hefty sum is offered based on the Government's spirit of goodwill towards the descendants. This is in accordance with the original spirit of the formulation of the Sultan Hussain Ordinance, which is to meet the financial needs of the late Sultan Hussain and his descendants.
Mr Speaker, the main issue that emerges from this proposed amendment is actually connected to new section 4 which retains the declaration that lands, as mentioned in one part of the old section 4, in the Kampong Glam area remain as lands belonging to the British government (Crown lands). The Minister has said that the Bill that was tabled does not in any way derogate from the legislative effect of that part of section 4 which states that these lands are Crown lands. This section took effect when the Ordinance was drawn up a long time ago and hence, these lands now remain as State land.
In my opinion, the legal position, whether of the original law or the amended one, is clear, that these lands are no longer the property of any descendants of Sultan Hussain. This was decided by the Court of Appeal in 1897 and remains effective today. As far as I am aware, the legitimacy has never been challenged in court in the last 100 years.
Although the issue is very clear, I am disappointed to find that there are certain quarters in Malaysia who have taken the opportunity to try to confuse public opinion in their own interest and for their own benefit. I refer to Malaysian TV and print media that distort facts, coming up with what is not there and burying the truth. After the Government announced the Kampong Glam Malay Heritage Centre project, it seems that the media in that country is very enthusiastic in having coverage of the issue. What disappoints me is that most of the news reported are not true. Among those reported are, first, and I quote:
'Residents also reject the government's offer to pay US$350,000 (RM782,340) to them in the period of 30 years.' - Utusan Malaysia, 3rd May 1999, page 19. This is totally incorrect. The actual amount is S$350,000 per year for 30 years, and the total amount is estimated at S$10.5 million.
Second, that the Istana Kampong Glam, "Singapore's last Malay bastion will be destroyed" - front page of Utusan Malaysia, 13th May 1999. We, in Singapore, know that the Government will spend millions of dollars to conserve and restore Istana Kampong Glam as a Malay Heritage Centre.
Third, Mingguan Malaysia dated 9th May 1999, pages 24 and 25, published a two-page article entitled "The disappearance of Singapore's Malay bastion" and "300 descendants of Sultan Hussain refuse to move out to preserve the historical heritage of the Malay sultanate." It quoted someone saying that the Istana Kampong Glam project would end and erase the historical heritage of the Singapore Malay sultanate. Fourth, Utusan Malaysia, 14th May 1999, published a letter from a reader named Zia-Ul-Arief with a sensational news headline, "Singapore wants the history of Malay supremacy to vanish" on page 7. Let me quote some of the fiery words used:
'The Istana Kampong Glam episode in Singapore is a tragic incident about the fate of the Malay race. It is not about an old building being demolished for development purposes but a final episode to eliminate the history of Malay supremacy in Singapore."
I further quote:
'Singapore's intention to build the Singapore Malay Heritage Centre is merely an excuse. To it, the Malays have no right to step in Singapore.'
I further quote:
'Finally, the Malays in Temasek will disappear with time.'
'The Malay community must realise and understand. If the Malay race is destroyed, our supremacy in this country will vanish. Perhaps the words of Hang Tuah that 'the Malays will not disappear from the world' will not be a reality in Temasek and our homeland.'
Mr Speaker, I find such words are highly inflammatory.
Fifth, Awang Sulung in his column Bisik-bisik or Whispers in Utusan Malaysia and Utusan Melayu dated 4th June, made these comments:
'As expected, the descendants of Sultan Hussain Shah who live in Istana Kampong Glam in Singapore will not be able to bear up for long in their struggle to defend their istana. Instead, they will have to be content with some compensation that does not match their position as descendants of the sultan. Therefore, they have to move from a "palace" to ordinary people's flat. Thus, that is the end of the last symbol of Malay supremacy in the republic once known as Temasek. Nothing can change the situation. The glory of the past will only remain a sad memory. What could be useful to ponder now at this sad moment is why the Singapore Malays become like that.'
Sixth, the word "seize" was used repeatedly in several of their reports. A commentator of the Analisis programme by TV3 which was telecast on Wednesday, 30th June at 7.30 pm, which could be viewed by Singaporeans, made the same allegation. The TV programme commentator accused the development of the Malay Heritage Centre as "a subtle move to abolish the only symbol of Malay glory in Singapore." Mr Speaker, these allegations and statements are untruths.
Seventh, the TV3 commentator also claimed that, "the Singapore Government suddenly seized the Istana and evicted the approximately 300 residents around the Istana." She added by saying, "the now powerless descendants of Sultan Hussain are being trapped by the PAP's urbanisation and resettlement policies. It is made an excuse to acquire the Malay sultanate land or clearly, Malay rights." Sir, this is gross mispresentation of facts. The fact is that the former Minister for Information and the Arts, BG George Yeo, had announced the formation of a committee to study the development of the Istana Kampong Glam as a Malay Heritage Centre as early as seven years ago. As far as I can remember, the number of residents of Istana Kampong Glam that are affected by the resettlement is 170 persons, not 300, as claimed. Why do they have to lie? Mr Speaker, we know what is going on by the look of things.
Eighth, is it appropriate for Zain Mahmud, an ex-senior officer in the former Radio and Television Singapore who is now a Malaysian citizen, to write in MASSA (issue of 26th June 1999) saying, "Singapore forces the heirs of the former Sultan of Singapore to break up and move to flats to enable the inherited Istana to be made into a Malay Heritage Centre. Could this be seen as a move to put the Malays into the museum?" Are these words not mischievous, to say the least?
Mr Speaker, the list of media reports which I quoted earlier shows that they have an axe to grind. The setting up of the Malay Heritage Centre at Istana Kampong Glam is part of Singapore's national project. The problem arising from the resettlement of Istana Kampong Glam's residents is an internal affair of Singapore. Such false and distorted articles on sensitive matters on our internal matters are trying to sow the seed of discord and stir up ill feelings between races in a multi-racial Singapore. Singaporeans have to be vigilant against such attempts. We in Singapore must not be trapped by their remarks because we in Singapore know the facts, and are aware of the truth.
Mr Speaker, let me add that these acts of interference in our internal affairs were made at a time when their leaders and their media took exception and strongly criticised the Business Times editorial recently, while at the same time they were doing what they were condemning. Is this not sheer hypocrisy or double standard?
The setting up of the Malay Heritage Centre has actually received wide support of the Malay community. Allow me to quote the words of Haji Ridzwan Dzaffir, the Chairman of the Malay Heritage Foundation, last Friday in Berita Harian:
'The Malay community accepts the proposal well. This is a major opportunity for us to develop a Malay Heritage Centre based on our own knowledge, and we will also invite Malay experts in all areas of history. We will surely be able to manage it well.'
I have not actually heard the Malay population in Singapore expressing their displeasure on the Malay Heritage Centre project in Istana Kampong Glam. The willingness of distinguished, highly qualified and independent-minded professionals to sit on the Board of Directors of the Malay Heritage Centre is proof of the strong support of the Malay community for the project.
Mr Speaker, we should not lose sight of the underlying reasons for the setting up of the Malay Heritage Centre and why the Istana Kampong Glam was chosen as the site. The Malay Heritage Centre is intended to complement the museums of the National Heritage Board. It will capture the history and cultural heritage of the Malays in Singapore and trace its linkages with kinsmen in this region and beyond. Personally, I see it as our way of showing respect for the past, including the history of the Malay sultanate, just as we appreciate our past by not changing the names of our roads and streets, because they are part of our heritage. It is also our way of preserving our culture and heritage and to share it with fellow Singaporeans, people in this region and the world.
We should not forget that Istana Kampong Glam is located in the midst of a historic area bordered by Rochore Road, Beach Road, Jalan Sultan and Victoria Street. Its choice as the Malay Heritage Centre itself is an opportunity to turn it into a major landmark. For it was an area that had located the Malay Sultanate. It was also a place, the vicinity of which had witnessed the birth of Malay/Muslim entrepreneurs, businessmen, writers, printers, haj agencies, together with the rise of Muslim education centres, publishing houses, a place where songkoks were made, Malay leather slipper-making, polishing of diamonds, sailing and accommodation of travellers. It is the heartbeat of the Malays of the olden days. This is the spirit we wish to revive as we face the new millennium.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I support the Bill.