Scholarly article on topic 'Heritage Conservation and Regeneration of Historic Areas in Malaysia'

Heritage Conservation and Regeneration of Historic Areas in Malaysia Academic research paper on "Earth and related environmental sciences"

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{"Urban conservation" / regeneration / "character of place" / "urban environment"}

Abstract of research paper on Earth and related environmental sciences, author of scientific article — Shahrul Yani Said, Hasnizan Aksah, Elma Dewiyana Ismail

Abstract Heritage cities in the developing nations, including Malaysia, currently face intensified urban problems as a result of rapid population growth, economic development and population growth. The introduction of new townships at the edge of many historic cities in Malaysia has exposed them to severe pressure of commercialization, poor design and cultural uniformity that has faded away their place identity. Thus, regeneration initiatives should be introduced to restore the wealth of the prestigious past of the historic cities and to improve the lifestyle of its population, as the vibrancy of a heritage site is only significant when its original community remains.

Academic research paper on topic "Heritage Conservation and Regeneration of Historic Areas in Malaysia"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 (2013) 418 - 428

AicE-Bs2013 London Asia Pacific International Conference on Environment-Behaviour Studies University of Westminster, London, UK, 4-6 September 2013 "From Research to Practice"

Heritage Conservation and Regeneration of

Historic Areas in Malaysia

Shahrul Yani Said , Hasnizan Aksah, Elma Dewiyana Ismail

Centre of Studies for Building Survey _Universiti Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam 40450, Malaysia_


Heritage cities in the developing nations, including Malaysia, currently face intensified urban problems as a result of rapid population growth, economic development and population growth. The introduction of new townships at the edge of many historic cities in Malaysia has exposed them to severe pressure of commercialization, poor design and cultural uniformity that has faded away their place identity. Thus, regeneration initiatives should be introduced to restore the wealth of the prestigious past of the historic cities and to improve the lifestyle of its population, as the vibrancy of a heritage site is only significant when its original community remains.

© 2013The Authors. Publishedby Elsevier Ltd.

Selectionandpeer-reviewunder responsibilityof Centrefor Environment-Behaviour Studies(cE-Bs),FacultyofArchitecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia.

Keywords: Urban conservation; regeneration; character of place; urban environment

1. Introduction

The balance between conservation and redevelopment in developing countries, in general is particularly difficult to maintain (Fitch, 1982:402 in ; Kong and Yeoh, 1994). While the conservation of historic towns and cities in the Western world is considered a common situation, many non-Western countries are still in debate over whether to develop or demolish. In Southeast Asia, particularly in Singapore and Malaysia, the 'conservation-development conflict' or 'conservation dilemma' is further complicated by the plurality of cultures within the cities, all with their own claim to a unique heritage (Kong and Yeoh, 1994). It is important to state that conservation as a process consists of repair,

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +6-010-424-1563. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Centre for Environment-Behaviour Studies (cE-Bs), Faculty of Architecture, Planning & Surveying, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.11.044

restoration, preservation, maintenance, adaptive reuse and reconstruction. However, most of the work to historic buildings in Malaysia would, by the definition followed in the UK, be considered as restoration, since there is much renewal of building material and modern additions rather than minimal repairs to prolong life. Nevertheless, it is always referred to as 'conservation' in Malaysian documents. The main drawback of historic conservation in relation to urban regeneration in Malaysia is the failure of stakeholders to think of conservation as a holistic approach. Conservation is merely based on the restoration and maintenance of individual buildings. The traditional approach of conservation that concentrates on building preservation such as listed buildings will not safeguard the urban heritage and secure the sense of place of the historic cities (Idid, 2005; Shamsuddin and Sulaiman, 2002).

From the perspective of Malaysia, development schemes for historic cities revolves around the idea of introducing new modern development to historic areas, revitalization of the areas and refurbishment of historic buildings, which are often referred to as the tools for the improvement schemes of the cities. Heritage cities in developing nations including Malaysia currently face intensified urban problems as a result of rapid population growth, economic development and urbanization. The government perceives the development of new townships as a solution to disperse population pressure from city centers and to cater for the growing population. However, new townships at the edge of historic cities were sterile, reflected the adaptation of poor urban design guidelines and hence, failed to create harmony with the historic urban fabric.

Urban design schemes for historic cities in Malaysia involve regeneration or redevelopment, by turning old towns into new by demolishing the old buildings and replacing them with new buildings, and sometimes by adding a new, mixed-use skyscraper on a plot in the middle of the historic center, to demonstrate the regeneration of the area (see Figure 1).

In the context of this study, regeneration refers to: giving back life to the area, by bringing back social, physical and economics activities, while redevelopment refers to any new construction on a site that has pre-existing uses, in the form of urban infill and adaptive reuse. This is the most common approach to regeneration schemes in Malaysia. Urban redevelopment in the form of urban renewal and urban revitalization, however, are carried out in order to regenerate the area.

Fig. 1. The KOMTAR building (the tallest) and a modern shopping complex on the right side of the photo opposite a row of shop houses in the historic area of George Town

Source: Fotokrazy (2007)

2. Aim of study

This research is an attempt to find an answer to the question of whether heritage conservation is what is needed to regenerate (bring to life), the historic areas, by a study of the social, political and economic aspects of development schemes that have been carried out in historic cities in Malaysia.

3. Objectives of study

The objectives of this study are:

• To discuss the philosophy and meaning of conservation and regeneration

• To study existing guidelines and implemented schemes of regeneration in Malaysia

4. Problem statement

For many years, the idea of protecting historic buildings in the form of conservation, preservation, adaptive-reuse or restoration was not given the same importance as new development (Said, 2007). The movement towards development in Malaysia started in the 1970s when the Second Malaysian Plan was introduced. The Urban Development Authority (Uda Holdings Berhad) was formed to manage the redevelopment of new cities, public housing, recreation, hotels, commercial centers and industrial premises (Uda Holdings Berhad, 2008). Starting with government initiatives to encourage private funding in recent years, the development of new areas and housing schemes grew rapidly.

The sad state of historic conservation in Malaysia was long left untold and ignored until the Federal government recently realized the importance of historic buildings as living evidence of the growth and success of the country. Many historic and cultural significance that are worthy of preservation for sustainable development in Malaysia. However, uncontrolled development has resulted in the building of new buildings and facades sandwiched in between old buildings (Wan Ismail, 2012). The introduction of National Heritage Act 2005, followed by more investment towards the social awareness of heritage in the Ninth Malaysia Plan confirmed the Federal move towards the sustainability of Malaysian heritage. As agreed by Fielden (2003) and Orbasli (2008), the living heritage told stories of the survival of the ancestors, the development of the country and the way of life of the people that had formed the identity of the nation, which is unique in its own sense. Without proper supervision and maintenance of historic buildings, the country will eventually lose its historic townscape that portrays the uniqueness of a city (Idid, 1996: p1).

According to Ahmad (1998), the concept of urban conservation was introduced in Malaysia in the early 1980s and several cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown, Malacca and Kota Bharu have since adopted it. It is very important to perceive in positive manner all efforts geared towards the conservation of heritage cities because conservation is not only crucial for national development but to develop pride for their heritage in future generations (Ahmad, 1998:p62). Thus, a good urban conservation scheme in the form of regeneration is important to revitalize the cities, while keeping intact all these memories.

5. Literature review

At present, the approach taken for redevelopment and regeneration of historic cities and urban areas in Malaysia involves the introduction of new build and infill development in the historic sites, with the intention of giving a 'new look' and to boost the identity and status of the place. Most of the old buildings within the historic areas would be left untouched and become derelict or suffer demolition to give way to further development. New buildings in the form of flagship developments are often introduced to the area,

instead of redevelopment and regeneration schemes, in terms of conservation, revitalization and beautification approach to the historic settings.

It is crucial for the stakeholders to understand conservation from a broader view, i.e. the relationship between the continuity of the architectural façade and the harmonious relationship of old and new (Idid, 2005). Without this understanding, many regeneration projects have failed to include building conservation as a part of the scheme and have usually resulted in the demolition of the old buildings and replacement by new build. The new development creates a new identity to the city and unfortunately loses the significant physical fabric and, social and cultural essence of the old historic city.

5.1. Urban conservation

In Malaysia, urban conservation is classified into three general categories, which are building conservation, area conservation and cultural conservation (Mohamed et al., 2001). The guidelines and policies on urban conservation have been implemented jointly by the local authorities, Federal and State governments, Department of Museums and Antiquity, heritage trusts and other professional bodies. It is fast gaining momentum, and considered as significant to the urban planning and development of the country. However, heritage cities in Malaysia are facing intensified urban problems as a result of rapid population growth, economic development, and urbanization (Mohamed et al., 2001).

These threats are the result of insensitive redevelopment schemes that were carried out before the introduction of the National Heritage Act 2005. A similar study by Mohamed et al. (2001: p7-p9) carried out in major historic cities in Malaysia such as George Town, Kota Bharu, Melaka, Taiping and Ipoh has identified challenges facing by the heritage cities in Malaysia as:

• Design of new township development

• Depopulation of inner city

• Intensive and uncontrolled development pressures

• Insufficient legislations and enforcement

• Changing lifestyles and consumption patterns of city dwellers

• Expectation of new tourists

• Public awareness

• Environmental degradation.

A study of the old town centers in Malaysia commenced in 1992 and revealed some worrying trends that threaten the survival of the historic cities (Shamsuddin and Sulaiman, 2002). The threats are categorized into five groups which are:

• The disruption of the urban pattern,

• Disappearing townscape,

• Changing activity pattern,

• Visual monotony and obsolescence

• Gentrification

The disruption of the urban pattern increases when the historic core's unique pattern is slowly disrupted by the invasion of office tower blocks and large blocks of shopping complexes altering the existing skyline of the area, as in Penang. Large- scale, modern developments such as hotels and service apartments were introduced in the redevelopment scheme of George Town that could have been located elsewhere if there had been a more appropriate development policy that recognized the importance of the unique urban pattern (Fig. 2.).

Fig. 2. (a) and (b) High rise apartment steal the skyline of George Town WHS

The danger of allowing large scale commercial development, if not designed sensitively within the historic core, might 'act as a cancer that could spread' (Shamsuddin and Sulaiman, 2002: p8) and in the end destroy the whole fabric of the historic environment. Such development will only attract insensitive speculative development and inflate the land values. This will make the historic and traditional buildings no longer economically viable and due to the lack of financial abilities often left to dereliction.

Fig. 3. (a) Homogeneous and monotonous modern shop houses; (b) in comparison to traditional ornate old shop houses (right) of Gat Lebuh Melayu

5.2. The Impact of development

An unsuccessful regeneration approach could also contribute to the disappearance of the unique townscape qualities of the traditional street pattern and their adherence to human scale. Modern commercial development emphasizes large scale and height. Unfortunately, the modern shop houses and supermarkets are homogeneous and monotonous (Figure 3a) compared with the traditional ornate and charming old shop houses (Figure 3b). The lack of character dominates the area and conceals the rich

assets of the traditional buildings, thus eliminating the sense of identity of the place. Nevertheless, new building design could be improved and maintain the character of the traditional shop houses. Meanwhile, the large scale developments have resulted in the increase of traffic which pressurizes the traditional streets that are not designed to accommodate modern traffic. Therefore, new policies concerning road widening and building setbacks to accommodate the new interventions are introduced. Unfortunately this has altered the historic townscapes. Many of the activities in historic cities such as trading and hawking occur on the streets and the walkways in front of the buildings, creating a sense of place in the city. Inconsiderate regeneration schemes involve the relocation of marketplaces and these traditional stalls to new centralized buildings or areas. The changes to the activity pattern, however, often lead to the death of the historic core when the sense of place is no longer there.

In addition, technological advancement in transportation has decentralized many urban functions from the city and encouraged urban sprawl (Mohamed et al, 2001). In George Town, for example, the younger age-group of the historic city migrated out to find better employment opportunities and to have a better lifestyle. The rise in the value of properties has also drawn people away from the area as they could no longer afford the higher market rates.

6. Methodology

To clarify the current relationship between historic conservation and the planning system in Malaysia, a literature review was undertaken that includes an analysis of texts on the history, philosophy, theory, principles, concepts and regulations of integrated urban conservation and regeneration. This was to look at how the policies are implemented and interpreted onto the area. The review also established the timeline of conservation-related legislation in Malaysia in order to understand its value in the process of the development of the country as a whole. Interviews with local authorities and governmental bodies in Malaysia were conducted to gather such data, as well as sources from national archives.

7. Result and discussion

7.1. The philosophy and meaning of conservation and regeneration

Conservation practice started as the act of appreciation of heritage. It is a way to maintain, restore and repair heritage which has been left by our ancestors, in the form of architectural remains or artifacts, as quoted by Earl (2003: p9) from Muthesius (1902) 'maintenance instead of reconstruction; that is the general aim of conservation'.

The history of building conservation can be traced from the traditional practice of architecture since Ancient Rome (Earl, 2003). The conservation of past glory continues to the present and has become part of architectural practice in many forms: restoration, reconstruction, adaptive reuse, renovation and repair. Today, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) is a global, non-government organization that works on behalf of the conservation and protection of heritage.

Societies live and work in towns and cities and, as they begin to evolve, the urban form does the same to accommodate change and growth. For its users, be it residents or visitors, the city becomes the cultural interpretation of the physical environment through personal identification and attachment. 'Urban heritage is an interpretation of history by a wide range of users; its value, though, is not simply in the historic attributes of the built fabric and spatial aspects of the townscape, but also in the life of the contemporary resident community, differentiating it from other forms of heritage' (Orbasli, 2001: p1). Therefore, the aim of urban regeneration must be to enhance the environment and ensure its continuity as a desirable place to live.

In the urban environment, culture and heritage present a question of ownership. While historic buildings are owned individually, the historic town is an entity that is owned communally by the society or community. Urban heritage as a link to history is a combination of tangible aspects (i.e. buildings and streetscape) and intangible aspects (culture, religion, and myths). Therefore, in conserving urban heritage, the considerations of the underlying aspects are significant to ensure the survival of the heritage.

Urban conservation is viewed as the most relevant way to sustain historic cities. To stay relevant and beneficial, historic cities have to catch up with modern, new cities in forms of physical and economic attractions. In order to do so, a good planning method is required to ensure that the historic components will stay intact within the modern environment. One of the best ways to conserve urban heritage is by regeneration.

Regeneration is a growth industry that has influenced the urban planning system of the world today. Regeneration basically is a planning method of renewing, enhancing and integrating the old historic environment to a new, modern, economically thriving environment. Smith (2007: p1) defines the term 'regeneration' as being synonymous with devitalization' (bringing new to life) or 'renaissance' (being reborn) (Smith, 2007). Bianchini (1993: p211) describes urban regeneration as 'a composite concept, encompassing economic, environmental, social, cultural, symbolic and political dimensions'. It is a process of revitalizing the area of the city that has declined in use and purpose by developing the potential tools such as property, business, retail or arts development in order to enhance the area physically, economically, socially and culturally.

7.2. Existing guidelines and implemented schemes of regeneration in Malaysia

The care and conservation of historic buildings in Malaysia are under the jurisdiction of various agencies at different levels. Government agencies, both Federal and State, play important roles in supervising all matters related to conservation and preservation of historic buildings. Besides these agencies, there are a few other public organizations established by groups of architects, planners, journalists, artists and historians, such as the Malaysian Architects Association (PAM) and Malaysian Institute of Planners, to support and maintain the national heritage (Ahmad, 1993).

There are in addition, support groups such as Penang Heritage Trust and the Heritage of Malaysia Trust, which are the two main pressure groups which have been campaigning on the issue of heritage conservation. So far, the pressure groups have created much awareness on the importance of the heritage to the public. Newsletters, heritage awareness campaigns in schools and workshops on conservation were carried out to encourage participation in the protection of heritage in Malaysia.

International corporations, locally based in Malaysia, such as the American Express Foundation had played an active role in promoting historic preservation in Malaysia. For example, in 2002, Georgetown received a grant of US$80,000 from The American Express Foundation for the preservation of the city's cultural historic enclaves after being listed in the World's 100 Most Endangered Site by the World Monuments Watch (WMW) of the World Monuments Fund (WMF) based in the USA (Ahmad, 2006).

At federal level, four ministries are involved in the protection of national heritage and their roles are described in Table 1. Besides them, at state level, the State Planning Committee (Abel, 1997) plays an important role in monitoring the implementation of the Heritage Management Plan and Act. The committee consists of State Directors from the responsible ministries (mentioned later in Table 2), State Secretary, State Financial officer, State Legal Advisor, State Executive Committee and representatives from public organizations (Penang. State Government, 2008; State Government of Penang, 2008). The functions of this level of the organization are to monitor and liaise between the Federal agency and the local authorities. Table 1 explains the role of the organization from the Federal level to the local authority level.

Shahrul Yani Said et al. / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 105 (2013) 418 - 428 Table 1. The roles of federal agencies for the conservation of historic buildings and areas in Malaysia

Department(s) involved in Acts, Guidelines and Roles



Ministry of Tourism and National Heritage Culture Department, responsible for:

World Heritage Sites Department

National Heritage Acts 2005

-Managing; National Heritage Council, National Heritage Funds, National Heritage Listing

-formation of National Heritage Council as an advisor for heritage conservation

-Receive and manage the World Heritage Fund

Tourism Malaysia

-Funds and tourism promotions

Ministry of Urban Wellbeing and Federal Territories

Federal Town and Country Planning Department

TCPA 1976 (Act 172) National Physical Plan (2001)

- a written statement of strategic policies on the physical development and conservation throughout the peninsular of Malaysia. The plan was approved by the National Physical Plan Council on April 26, 2006._

Ministry of Education

Local Universities

Research and training

Table 2 discusses the function of the Building Conservation Agencies in Malaysia, the responsibility and the enabling laws. Besides these governing bodies, academic research and findings did contribute to the formation of policies and guidelines for action plans for historic buildings and areas in Malaysia.

Table 2. The functions and remit of building conservation agencies in Malaysia




Enabling Laws Responsibility

Federal National Heritage Conserve, preserve and protect cultural National

Department heritage and natural heritage through Heritage Act (JWN) (KPKK) research, documentation, enforcement 2005 Act 645 _and promoting awareness of heritage._

Managing; National Heritage Council, National Heritage Funds, National Heritage Listing_

Town and Country Planning Department (JPBD)

Prepares State Structure Plan, District Local Plan, Special Area Plan

Town and Country Planning Act 1976 (Act 172)

State Structure Plan

State Planning Committee

State/ Local State Heritage Authority Committee

World Heritage Office (Penang)

Malacca Museum Corporation


Manage and liaise with the local authorities on all matters pertaining to the site which are currently outside the purview of current statutory system including branding, promotion, tourism and liaison between the state, federal and international organizations and agencies for the betterment of the site.

Companies Act



Guidelines for Conservation Areas and Heritage Buildings

Local Authority

Heritage Department/Unit

Local Authority

Planning and Building Control,

Managing traffic, streets and drainage sanitary; and open areas.

Public participations and

Government Act 1976 (Act 171)

Town and Country Planning Act

District Local Plan Special Area Plan

implementation of Local Agenda 21 1976 (Act 172)

Fund allocations Street,

Building and Drainage Act

_1975 (Act 133)_

Source: Author, 2011 based on Melaka. Majlis Bandaraya Melaka Bersejarah, 2010; Penang. State Government, 2008

Local Authorities such as Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Melaka and Taiping are the front-liners in introducing conservation-based policies to regenerate historic areas in their Special Area Plan. Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2020 served as reference for urban development in metropolitan city of Kuala Lumpur, where conservation area identified in this plan are historical and cultural significance buildings and sites.

In Kuala Lumpur Development Control Plan 2008 (KLDCP 2008) several key planning measures that are used to regulate, control and manage physical development of land through development control process and procedures (Kuala Lumpur City Hall ; 2008 ). The KLDCP 2008 conforms to the provisions of the Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020. Heritage Zone is identified by the City Plan as an area of special architectural or historic interest and character of which it is desirable to preserve or conserve. The purpose of designating such a zone is to ensure that the areas within it maintain the essential historic character or ambience and the development within the area is undertaken with care and sympathy to form, character and scale of existing heritage sites and buildings.

The most recent is the introduction of The Greater Kuala Lumpur/ Klang Valley (GKL/KV) as one (1) of the twelve (12) National Key Economic Areas (NKEA) under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). Through Entry Point Project (EPP) 7 : Iconic Places under GKL/KV, it stated that Greater KL has immense potential to further leverage existing heritage sites that can be preserved and redeveloped in a manner that both celebrates the history and heritage, but also embraces a future as a cosmopolitan and global city.

However, the challenge ahead for urban regeneration in Malaysia is to promote development that could help the local communities in the historic cities to continue living their lives in their traditional places, with new revitalized physical settings but without losing their sense of place. New innovative design, through good conservation work, could help in adding value to the buildings and support the needs of modern lifestyles.

Although the idea of individual building conservation is commendable, a shift of the paradigm in urban conservation should be encouraged so that the heritage value of the historic cities is seen in total, and urban heritage conservation should focus on maintaining the sense of place of Malaysia's historic environments. In order to achieve that, public awareness of the importance of safeguarding the historic fabric must be an integral part of the urban conservation processes, alongside the effective role of the stakeholders in the design and enforcement of the policy.

8. Limitation of the study

The major limitation research was the inability to obtain financial data for land and buildings in the case study areas and to assess archived data from the National Archive Malaysia (Arkib Negara Malaysia). Other than that, politically related issues and changes in Development and Conservation Plans throughout the study have been encountered. The research required a historical record of the case study areas in order to compare them with the latest information, then to propose future recommendations. Therefore, archived data was important. Again, the bureaucracy and multi-level application required by

international based research, such as this, has prevented the author being able to assess the archived data from the national archive.

9. Conclusion and recommendation

The current policies and guidelines for development of historic cities in Malaysia such as Melaka and George Town have adhered to these measures. According to Mohamed et al. (2001: plO) 'more concerted efforts are needed to navigate problems experienced in the heritage cities, which should be geared at various levels'. More transparent local initiatives, provision of grants and technical advice, sufficient law and enforcement, the introduction of sustainable measures in planning and heritage partnerships are the measures to be improved in the Malaysian context. In response to the problems faced by historic cities in Malaysia, the local authorities of the five heritage cities have undertaken various initiatives and measures in dealing with the challenges. Among the measures and initiative taken are:

• Zoning of conservation and buffer zone

• Pedestrianisation in heritage cities

• Diversification of tourism products

• Heritage and tourism management

• Local involvement in Heritage Conservation

Besides that, a good funding mechanism for conservation schemes in Malaysia should be introduced in order to ensure the sustainability of the schemes. Malaysia could learn from the UK and European approach on funding mechanism for heritage-led regeneration scheme by introducing partnership in the projects, which currently not being in practiced in the Country. The successful partnership in the Grainger Town Project for example, shows the cooperation between public and private sectors to support regeneration for the area that could benefit all parties in as a long-term investment.

According to Pickard (2009: p13), governments can encourage conservation, restoration and rehabilitation process in two ways: 'the first involves policies and measures to stimulate the private sector to invest in architectural heritage (the dynamic approach). The second derives from the fact that, without government support, the private sector may decide that investment is not economically justified, thus creating the need for financial incentives and subsidies (the support approach)'. Pickards (2009: pl4) also explained that evidence from heritage-led regeneration scheme suggests that partnership programs can generate six time or more of the initial public investment through the private sector partners or other sources. Thus, partnership scheme should be introduced and considered in urban conservation and regeneration projects in Malaysia, to guarantee commitments from the public and private sectors in sustaining their built heritage.

It is recommended for the future, that a study on the social characteristics of the area should be carried out in the initial stage before deciding on the choice of a data collection method in order to avoid the issue of poor cooperation from the local respondents. Further research on the conservation of historic cities in Malaysia is recommend to focus on the policy and public involvement in conservation and the regeneration of historic areas. The need to involve the public with decision making on the future of their cities is important, as the locals are the end-users to every regeneration scheme, and therefore are the group responsible for ensuring the sustainability of their area. Development according to their decisions will make them appreciate the place more.


The authors would like to thank Universiti Teknologi MARA, UiTM for the Research Intensive Faculty (RIF) grant to carry out this research.


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