Jail those responsible for Penang landslide, says group

Opalyn Mok
A view of the construction area where a landslide occurred on Friday that killed several foreign workers with three more feared still buried underneath the mud, October 22, 2018. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, Oct 23 — There should be jail terms imposed when prosecuting contractors for negligence over incidents like the recent Bukit Kukus landslide, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) said.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) secretary Meenakshi Raman said these are serious environmental crimes that should have strong and deterrent sentences instead of fines which can be easily paid off.

“Moreover the contractors’ names should be disclosed and blacklisted from future awards of contracts,” she added.

She believed there is “clearly wilful non-compliance by the contractor and negligence” in the case of the Bukit Kukus landslide based on recent revelations by state exco Zairil Khir Johari that state authorities found irregularities at the site on October 8.

Zairil said the erosion and sedimentation control committee had issued a letter to the project consultant instructing them to implement mitigation measures within 14 days.

Meenakshi said it is not enough just to issue letters to the contractor.

“The authorities should ensure that the measures were taken given the seriousness of the matter,” she said.

She said it requires follow-up monitoring to ensure enforcement and there is clearly failure in the part of the authorities not to act.

“Saying letters were issued does not absolve the authorities of their responsibilities,” she said.

She said the failure to act and take proper measures are violations under the relevant laws.

She said the contractors and those responsible must be prosecuted while officers and heads of departments who failed to act should also be made liable.

She then demanded that the families of the victims be compensated adequately.

“It is not enough to pay token compensation of the normal RM20,000 under the workmen’s’ compensation act,” she said.

Penang Forum’s Lim Mah Hui asked if the authorities had conducted regular auditing on the project as required under the Penang state’s safety guidelines for hill land projects.

“Can the city council show us the reports on what auditing and enforcement they have carried out on the site? They need to show us the reports,” he said.

He said the Tanjung Bungah landslide tragedy last year should have been a wakeup call for the state and council but they have not woken up.

“Must we have more loss of lives before they wake up?” he asked.

He asked the authorities if they even knew what type of soil was used in the development.

He also asked if the authorities only conducted a check on the site after Penang Forum submitted two complaints on the project.

He pointed out that the project is not new, that the hills were cleared for about two years and were left exposed to the elements.

“We can see big boulders on the slopes of Paya Terubong waiting to roll down... the state authorities should look at taking precautionary steps before anything happens,” he said.

He reiterated Penang Forum’s call for all projects on hilly terrain to stop until Penang has the same capability as Hong Kong in managing and monitoring hill developments.

Lim said Hong Kong has a geotechnical department with over 200 engineers and a meticulous monitoring system with very few incidences.

“Our geotechnical department only has three to four engineers who are very junior and one consultant,” he said.

He said this 12-month period where two landslide tragedies struck in the state showed that the state still do not have the capabilities to monitor and ensure the safety of hill developments.

“Until such time when we reach such capability, we should not continue with such projects,” he said.

Even then, he said this does not mean all hills on the island can be cut and cleared once the state has an efficient geotechnical department in place.

He said Penang, unlike Hong Kong, is not facing population pressure and does not need to cut hills for development especially when it has plenty of lands on the mainland.

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