The release of two draft heritage protection laws last month blindsided Yangon’s main heritage preservation group and the municipal authorities, who have been working together on a conservation law to protect the city’s heritage buildings.
However, both say a dedicated conservation law for Yangon will still be needed, even if the new draft laws are enacted.
Drafted by the Ministry of Culture, the laws were published in state-run media on April 19 and 20.
Contacted for comment after the laws were released, both Yangon Heritage Trust and Yangon City Development Committee said they had not yet read the drafts and requested more time to comment.
A spokesperson for the non-profit Yangon Heritage Trust told The Myanmar Times last week that the drafts focused mostly on non-urban conservation and there was “no way” they could provide sufficient protection to the city’s heritage architecture.
“We can see no way for this law to apply effectively to dynamic, lived-in urban centres such as Yangon with heritage buildings dating from all periods and with many different types of significance,” said spokesperson Daw Shwe Yinn Mar Oo.
“This law does not seem to cover Yangon’s urban heritage. It also doesn’t clearly define ‘conservation’.”
The group has been working with YCDC on a dedicated urban conservation law for Yangon that remains in draft form, awaiting regional government approval.
U Toe Aung, an urban planner at YCDC, said yesterday that the municipal body would proceed with this conservation law.
“There are many historical buildings in Yangon. We need to protect and preserve them because they are Yangon’s heritage, regardless of what the Ministry of Culture also does to protect them,” he said.
Department of Archeology, National Museum and Library deputy director general U Thein Lwin said the drafts updated the earlier law to ensure “better protection” of heritage sites and objects across the country.
He said the ministry welcomed feedback on the drafts and subsequent by-laws.
“We welcome all suggestions and advice from all related fields, including Yangon Heritage Trust,” he said.
“But please don’t be too hasty to judge. We need more cooperation.”
The laws – the Protection and Preservation of Ancient Buildings Law, and the Protection and Preservation of Ancient Antiquities Law – are effectively an update of the 1957 Antiquities Act, which only protected structures made before 1886, the year colonial rule was formally introduced across then-Burma.
The new laws would protect antiques and buildings that are more than 100 years old and have “historic, cultural, artistic, antique or archaeological value”.
Anyone found to have damaged, removed or destroyed heritage buildings will face a prison term of three to seven years, as well as a fine. Those caught attempting to smuggle ancient objects will face five to 10 years’ imprisonment with a fine.
The penalties will help the ministry enforce regulations banning development inside cultural zones, particularly at Bagan, where a number of hotels were constructed illegally during the military government era.
“It changes some formal words and penalties … to tackle problems at [cultural] sites,” U Thein Lwin said.
“We expect these drafts can be helpful for protecting and preserving heritages sites and objects in the country.”
Source: Myanmar Times