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The danger of half-truths in Penang landslide issue

November 10, 2017

Writer asks if politicians are confusing 'flat land' with 'low land' in their insistence that the Tanjung Bungah construction site was not on a hill slope.

COMMENT

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By Dr Lim Mah Hui

I wish to comment on the press statement by Jagdeep Singh Deo as reported in Berita Daily and many other newspapers on Oct 24.

He said, “The Penang state government has not approved any development projects on hill slopes above 76m since 2008.”

He then compared the zero approvals for projects on land above 76m by the current administration to the 28 high-rise schemes allowed to be built on land above 76m by the previous administration.

The public would like government officials to explain how the above statements corroborate with the information provided by Chow Kon Yeow to the Penang state assembly in November 2015 in his reply to questions raised about residential development projects on hill land, ie. land above 76m, and/or on hill slopes with a gradient exceeding 25 degree.

The below table, quoted verbatim, was provided in Chow’s answer.

pemajutanahOf the 56 projects approved between 2008 and September 2015, only six were approved in 2008 and 50 from 2009 onwards. It may be that some of these projects were initially approved before 2008. However, every planning permission is valid for one year and has to be renewed annually, at which time the council has the right to impose new conditions or decline re-approval.

Jagdeep should explain whether all of the above projects were below 76m. Even if they were, what was crucially left out was that the projects could be below 76m but on hill slopes of greater than 25 degrees.

Are these not sensitive hill lands or hill slopes with high risks? The officials should not play with words as lives have been lost.

The landslide that occurred near Lembah Permai on Oct 21 was on land below 76m and ostensibly on slopes of less than 25 degrees, as it was categorised as Class 2 land (with slopes of between 15 and 25 degrees). If such calamities can happen on Class 2 land, what more with Class 3 land?

Again, officials like to play with words. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, Second Deputy Chief Minister P Ramasamy, and Jagdeep have all claimed that the project was not on hill land but on “flat land”.

Even the president of the Institute of Engineers, Tan Yean Chin, echoed the politicians’ claim that “the Tanjung Bungah development was not on the hill slope but on the land adjacent to the hill slope”.

What is their definition of “flat land”? Are they confusing “low land” (land below 76m above sea level) with “flat land”? Is this Class 2 hill slope land regarded as flat land? It may not be hill land, if “hill land” is defined as land above 76m, but it certainly is not flat land.

When the politicians visited the tragedy site, they saw construction on flat land. Did they not know that the flat land they saw was created by cutting into a pre-existing natural slope so that the new “flat land” is now adjacent to a man-made slope that has been made more unstable and risky?

It was precisely the newly-cut slope adjacent to the building site on flat land that collapsed and buried 11 people.

Politicians can play with words, but not people’s lives. Many residents, from Sungai Ara to Paya Terubong to Miami Green, have vocally demonstrated their concerns and demands which I hope the government will heed.

If politicians continue to be defensive and insist that they did not approve any projects above 76m and that the Granito project was built on flat land despite facts to the contrary, does it bode well for our future?

Dr Lim Mah Hui is a former Penang Island City Council (MBPP) councillor.

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


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