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Penang govt to blame for the Tanjung Bungah landslide?

October 23, 2017

Penang deputy chief minister says there is currently nothing to prove that the recent hillslope collapse at a construction site is the state government's fault.


ramasamy-landslideBy P Ramasamy

Rather than taking an objective look at the reasons behind the recent collapse of the hillslope on the construction site in Tanjung Bungah, some sections of the mass media and those in the federal government are already taking shots at the Penang state government, holding it responsible for the tragedy.

The “I told you so” phenomenon has emerged among those die-hard critics of the Penang state government. For them, unfortunately, despite the loss of lives of one Malaysian and several foreign workers, the Tanjung Bungah hillslope tragedy is something that they will use and reuse to slam the Penang state government for years to come.

Over the last few years, members of civil society have asked the government to put a lid on developments in hillside areas. They are not satisfied that Penang government has a low tolerance for development projects that exceed the limit of 76 meters.

Yet, these “do-gooders” are silent when it comes to development in high-density areas like Kuala Lumpur, where there is a high tolerance for hillside projects of 300 meters.

The question is whether the landslide that occurred in Tanjung Bungah was the result of unhindered hillside development.

Lately, the natural resources and environment ministry has accused the Penang state government of not paying attention to the granite quarrying operations above the construction site.

According to the ministry, the granite quarry above the construction site was in operation from 1960 onwards. It conducts blasting, with the last blast on Oct 9, 2016.

The ministry, it seems, never supported the condominium project on the site as it issued a rejection letter on Jan 23, 2015.
It lamented that the state government had failed to monitor the project.

Whether the landslide had anything to do with the housing project per se remains to be established.

The fact that the housing project was on a flat piece of land raises questions about this line of reasoning.

There is a possibility that those responsible for the housing project – the developer, the consultant engineers, and the contractors – might have overlooked the requirements of hillslope management, even though the hillslope was adjacent to the construction site.

The natural resources and environment ministry’s argument that the collapse of the hillslope might be related to the granite quarrying activities above the construction site remains to be proven.

Yes, the ministry might have rejected the project on the grounds that there were no sufficient buffer zones established between the project and the quarry operations site. However, there is nothing concrete to say that the quarry operations were the cause of the collapse of the hillslope.

Whatever the case, the commission of inquiry that will be set up must pay serious attention to the issue raised by the ministry. It must examine whether the failure to observe the requirements of buffer zones could have caused the tragedy to take place.

However, right now, there is no point in politicising the matter as there is nothing conclusive about whether the quarry project could have been the cause.

While some sections of the media have gone to town with headlines splashed on front pages, such enthusiasm and passion was lacking among them when the uncompleted ramp of the second Penang bridge and the topmost structure of the Menara Umno building collapsed some time back within the period of one week.

The Penang government is open to criticism. It will take a responsible role in terms of preventing such mishaps from happening in the future. However, to put the blame squarely on the state government is not acceptable.

P Ramasamy is the Penang deputy chief minister and DAP deputy secretary-general.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.



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