Semporna is to have an arts and culture centre for research and reference on the local community’s culture, history and heritage. Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Mohd Shafie Apdal said the proposed centre would promote the culture and heritage to both local and foreign tourists. “Establishment of the centre is important to ensure the existing culture does not whittle just like that. Like the ‘Lepa’ Regatta that has its own history. ‘Lepa’ or in the Bajau language, boat, is a heritage that is slowly disappearing and it has to be nurtured as a treasure “Therefore, in appreciating the importance of the ‘lepa’, the Lepa Regatta is included in the National Water Festival. As such, we propose the setting up of the arts and culture centre so that the heritage we have is safeguarded,” Mohd Shafie said at the launch of the 15th Lepa Regatta 2008, here on Saturday night. The Lepa Regatta 2008 was launched by the Sabah Yang di-Pertua Negeri, Tun AhmadShah Abdullah who was accompanied by his wife Toh Puan Dayang Masuyah Awang Japar. Also present were Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun and Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department Datuk Nasir Tun Sakaran. Mohd Shafie, who is also Semporna member of parliament, hoped the Sabah State Government would raise the status of the Lepa Regatta as the event could unify the races and bring in additional income to the state and country. He said the regatta was watched not just by the locals but also by people from Tawau, Lahad Datu, Sandakan including those from Peninsular Malaysia. “They gather here for the regatta and get a close feet of the ‘lepa’ heritage. So efforts to enhance the event must be more pro-active along with the aid and support of the State Government,” Mohd Shafie said.