HILL SLOPE CONSTRUCTION & ACTIVITIES: MALAYSIA ASEAN APEC LEAD CONSUMERIST PROF DR JACOB GEORGE ASKS – WILL THE FATALITIES AND TRAGEDIES CONTINUE?

“We also need a public register identifying public officers, companies, contractors and professional linked to problem projects so that there can be more oversight by third parties or a national taskforce of eminent public interest individuals monitoring such activities!”

HILL SLOPE CONSTRUCTION & ACTIVITIES: MALAYSIA ASEAN APEC LEAD CONSUMERIST PROF DR JACOB GEORGE ASKS – WILL THE FATALITIES AND TRAGEDIES CONTINUE?

I do not know if you remember the tragedy but also the promises made and assurances by many politicians gave Malaysians, which includes, Anwar Ibrahim a member of the cabinet then!

It was the 11th December 1993, which marked the date of a heart-breaking tragedy that occurred in Taman Hillview, Ulu Klang, Selangor, hereinafter known as the Highland Towers Tragedy!

Many lives were lost and whole families just killed in one go!

Since 1993, there have been repeated tragedies occurring which raised the whole question of hill slope construction!

Many debates, many press statements and policymakers assurances, many think tank sessions but these tragedies continued!

We see no light at the end of that tunnel!

After each tragedy, we are told to take an objective look at reasons behind the collapse of the hill slope before conducting a trial by media and enforcing a blame game!

For example in 2017, the Penang Island City Council has given its assurances that residential areas in Tanjung Bungah, where a landslide and sinkhole caused the collapse of part of a newly-built set of luxury homes were safe for occupancy.

Those three newly-built luxury houses on the hillside of Tanjung Bungah were destroyed after heavy downpour triggered a landslide and sink-hole, causing the whole double-lane road in front of the premises to collapse.

In that incident, the centre of the retaining wall in front of the row of houses started to collapse before the whole road caved in.

For the record the said units were going for between RM1.6 million and RM2.3 million each.

Promises and assurances were made!

There were also ‘calls and chants’ urging the then Federal Government to amend the Road, Drainage and Building Act 1974 to prevent further tragedies involving development on slopes.

Since then, there was that Tanjong Bungah tragedy which if I am not wrong had fatalities again!

After each, an alleged “media crazy Tan Sri” will of course come out making press statements, be in the air over talk shows after each calamity, tragedy and fatality, without any shame!

Then again we see the same as we did, in that rather charged public outcry after that landslide at a construction site in Lengkok Lembah Permai which claimed the lives of 11 workers, including a Malaysian site supervisor.

What followed of course, the setting up of a commission to uncover the truth behind the tragic landslide and the cause of the failure of the temporary worksite slope?

Their scope of work among others, included, looking into the project approval process and procedures to see if they were in accordance with the set guidelines, as well as to identify the parties responsible for the failure of the temporary worksite slope and made recommendations for appropriate action, including those under the law, to those responsible.

The commission was alleged to be given three months to complete the investigation and prepare its report.

Despite that, various quarters have questioned the Penang government’s seriousness in finding out the truth and putting a much needed halt to all hillside construction!

I remember speaking on this hill slope construction in Penang and on the destruction, as well of my home town and despite the media blitz we carried out in Batu Feringhi Penang, nothing came of it, except a senior journalist from Malaysiakini, advising me to set aside some money to buy myself a side arm for my own protection in view the tentacles of very powerful interest groups and cartels on the island!

She was not wrong, as I did receive several death threats!

Then just when we thought, post GE14, this is new Malaysia – we will see dedication, micro managing surveillance, zero tolerance and a plan and process that will see no more political or industry bull-shit, a total halt to hill slop construction and other activities, we had this – Bukit Kukus landslide and more fatalities!

So I cannot but support my colleagues in Penang, and concur that it was certainly “willful non-compliance” by contractors stemming from a lack of monitoring and enforcement that resulted in the latest tragedy!

As my very dear colleague and friend from Sahabat Alam Malaysia, honorary secretary Meenakshi Raman stated and quite rightly that this tragedy could have been avoided if the authorities had been steadfast in their duty.

Was there passionate and dedicated compliance by the contractors to the entire process and were there gaps, negligence and failure on the part of the authorities who were expected to be on top of things and not drop the ball?

There is no such thing as self-regulation on the part of developers and contractors as these quarters are more interested in profits!

Current laws are also inadequate and not stiff enough to deter shenanigans in the industry and others who insulate them?

CASSA MALAYSIA and I will support any legislation where contractors, professionals, including the holding companies, are held liable and given punitive sanctions and penalties as a deterrent for such environmental crimes!

It is no more business as usual, but, one where we will support new laws enacted to address such environmental crimes that we concur require strong and deterrent sentences instead of puny fines!

We also need a public register identifying public officers, companies, contractors and professional linked to problem projects so that there can be more oversight by third parties or a national task force of eminent public interest individuals monitoring such activities!

Failing which please do expect before long another tragic incident and more media statements by professionals and pretenders!

I call for total halt to all hill slope construction in Malaysia – Period!