Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Penang landslide tragedy, why it happened?

Speaking out: Penang Forum members protesting outside the CAP office in George Town.

Don’t just make it about worker safety issues


https://youtu.be/xVK77MvxrZw


GEORGE TOWN: A Penang Forum member is worried that the state’s proposed inquiry into the Tanjung Bungah landslide will only focus on worker safety issues.

Meenakshi Raman, who is also Tanjung Bungah Residents Associa­tion chairman, said the inquiry should instead look at the laws that have not been followed and whether or not the Penang Structure Plan (PSP) was neglected.

“It should also look at whether the Penang Island City Council (MBPP), which has the authority to act, failed to properly do its job.

“We hope the commission will broaden its scope of inquiry,” she told press conference at the Consu­mers Association of Penang (CAP) office yesterday.

Penang Forum is a loose coalition of several civil society groups in the state.

The coalition, which includes Sahabat Alam Malaysia, CAP, Malay­sian Nature Society, Women's Centre for Change, Penang Heritage Trust, Friends of Botanical Gardens, and 25 residents’ associations and management committees, urged the state to halt all hillslope projects immediately.

It also wants the state to amend the 2009 guidelines on “special projects” to explicitly prohibit development on hill lands except for essential public services.

Forum member Dr Lim Mah Hui said the Penang Hills Watch citizens’ initiative provided the state government with information on hill cutting it collected from the public.

“In January, this site was the first case we highlighted to the state government.

“Photos of construction and hill cutting there were presented to the state government. It responded that the ‘earthwork is being monitored’,” he said.

Dr Lim said Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng wrote in the Safety Guidelines for Hillside Development in 2012 that local governments were to strengthen their geotechnical units, which process and approve applications for hillside developments, and follow up with strict enforcement.

“It says a monitoring team will be established to ensure compliance in construction and performance (of projects).

“The question is what happened then? Did the state and local governments follow their own guidelines? Or was there gross negligence?

“Such a tragedy could have been avoided,” Dr Lim claimed.

He also said parties like the State Planning Committee, MBPP’s One-Stop-Centre Committee (which approved the project), the engineers, the developer and contractors should be investigated.

CAP vice-president Mohideen Abdul Kader said Penangites’ concerns over hill development dated back some three decades.

“Remember the proposed Penang Hill development which we managed to cancel in the end? What the state must do now is look after the natural resources and listen to the NGOs.

“Public pressure can make a difference,” he said.

Another forum member, Dr Kam Suan Pheng, said the Penang Structure Plan forbade development on hill land 76m (250ft) above sea level or with a gradient of 25° and above.

“But many developers cut hillslopes, making them steeper and less stable.

“The weather is always blamed but there was no rain for the past week. So how did the landslide happen?” she asked.

Dr Kam said the Safety Guidelines for Hillside Development clearly state that “if you have a slope ... depending on the height of the slope, you need to have a buffer zone that is greater than the height of the slope.”

“From the media reports, the height of the affected slope is 10m, so there should be a buffer zone of 10m from the foothill,” she said, adding that the inquiry should explore this aspect.

Penang Citizens Awareness Chant Group adviser Yan Lee urged the developer to conduct studies on improving on-site safety measures and engage foreign consultants to make sure the project can go on safely.

“They should also make sure the deceased workers’ families are taken care of.”


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