Contractors slapped with 4th charge over deadly Penang landslide

Nine foreign workers were killed and four injured in the landslide at the Bukit Kukus paired road project in Paya Terubong, Penang, on Oct 19 last year. (Bernama pic)

GEORGE TOWN: A project director of the Bukit Kukus road project, where a deadly landslide took place in October last year, was today slapped with an additional charge of being negligent towards the safety of his workers at the Sessions Court here.

It was the fourth charge brought against the contractors of the project in Jalan Paya Terubong by the Department of Safety and Health (DOSH).

Lai Sin Kian, 58, the project director and an employee of Syarikat Yuta Maju Sdn Bhd, pleaded not guilty to the charge under Section 15(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994.

According to the charge, Lai failed to get calculations from a qualified engineer to ensure the work site was risk-free and safe for the workers, especially on the aspects of the backfilling of earth on a temporary slope at the Bukit Kukus pair road project which caused a landslide from 1.56pm to 6pm on Oct 19, 2018.

Lai faces a maximum fine of RM50,000 or two years’ jail, if found guilty.

Earlier, judge Mazdi Abdul Hamid said the charge sheet presented by the prosecution was flawed, as it stated the time of the incident was “from 1.56pm until 6pm”. He said this could affect the accused’s defence.

“I am going to give the prosecutors time to quickly change the charge in the case. If there are any further mistakes, I will throw the case out,” he said.

Responding, deputy public prosecutor Norliza Abu Othman explained that the commission of the offence was at 1.56pm and the investigation proper began at 6pm.

Mazdi then gave an example of a robbery case, where a suspect would be charged on the time of the incident, and not when the police investigation started.

He then set Sept 27 for mention.

Today’s charge was the fourth brought against Syarikat Yuta Maju, the main contractors for the project.

On July 2, the company and its managing director, Osmera Mamat, were accused of two counts of failing to ensure the safety, health and welfare of its workers on two separate occasions under Section 15 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994.

The third charge was related to the absence of a safety and health officer at the work site, as required under Section 29(2) of the same act.

The landslide occurred at the site of the elevated road project, costing RM530 million, being undertaken by the Penang Island City Council and two private developers near Air Itam.

According to DOSH, at least 42,000 tonnes of earth fell on 12 container cabins housing 13 foreign workers, killing nine and injuring the other four.

A state government investigation found that the landslide was caused by a 10-hour downpour, coupled with professional negligence in designing the temporary work site where the cabins were located.

Sungai Relau, which has its starting point on the hill, was also believed to be a likely cause of the incident, as the Penang Island City Council said the river was not diverted properly before the project began.