Set up commission to oversee risky development, Penang rep urges

The aftermath of the Bukit Kukus landslide last month, which claimed the lives of nine. (Bernama pic)

GEORGE TOWN: A Penang PKR assemblyman has called for the establishment of a state- or national-level commission with power to stop any risky development, especially on hills, to prevent serious environmental disasters.

Jason Ong (PKR-Kebun Bunga) said such a body would be timely, given the Bukit Kukus landslide which claimed the lives of nine last month. He added that such landslides were becoming too frequent.

He said a body called the Civil and Geotechnical Engineering Commission comprising building surveyors and civil engineers should be formed right away.

Besides issuing stop-work orders, he said, the commission should be able to order mitigation, rectification and other works deemed fit to ensure on-site safety.

“The commission will be responsible for issuing a standard operating procedure and criteria that need to be met for any social, environmental and traffic impact assessments deemed necessary.

“The body should be equipped with a Geographical Information System so it can map landslide and flood hazards in the entire state or areas it is in charge of,” he said when debating the 2019 Supply Bill at the state assembly here today.

He said the body could be formed under the auspices of the respective state assemblies or, better yet, by Parliament as a federal entity.

Levy on non-Penang cars entering island

On a different matter, Ong called for all bridge and ferry services to be run under a single company to ensure better profits and resilience to losses.

He said under an umbrella company, ferry services must have identical fares for the two cross-channel bridges connecting the island and the mainland.

“At the same time, a central interchange should be made the primary public transportation hub to connect buses, taxies and future rail links,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ong said, a levy should be imposed on non-Penang registered vehicles entering the island to encourage more people to take public transport.

He said with over a million vehicles entering the island daily, the levy would help cut traffic and improve the flow of cars on the island.

“About 10 years ago, we had 300,000 cars on the island. Now it is close to a million. I say let’s move people, not cars.”

Tear down Rifle Range Flats

Ong also called for the Rifle Range Flats, the oldest low-cost government housing in the country, to be torn down to make way for new blocks.

Saying the 49-year-old flats had become “too old” to maintain, he suggested they be torn down and rebuilt, this time with the floor area increased from the existing 300-odd sq ft to 900 sq ft to meet national requirements.

Ong said the existing occupants could be moved to the adjacent Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) 3 headquarters land. He said the state government should take over the FRU land to build temporary units there while the Rifle Range Flats are rebuilt.

“The cost of maintaining these flats has been quite costly, with the state government allocating about RM15 million for a period of four years between 2008 and 2012.

“There have been many problems such as old lifts, plumbing and cleanliness of common areas. It is time we upgrade the Rifle Range area as part of a long-term urban renewal plan for the poor.”

Rifle Range Flats, better known as “Pat Cheng Por” to the locals, are the country’s first low-cost high-rise flats. They were built in 1969. There are currently 3,675 units of houses and 65 shop lots, with two blocks owned by the Penang government.

The flats comprise nine blocks of 16- and 17-storeys in Air Itam. They derived their name from the fact that the area was once an open space used as a shooting range by the police and military.