More groups demand stop to hill slope developments in Penang

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

GEORGE TOWN, Oct 22 ― Pressure is piling on the Penang state government as more organisations are calling for a halt to all developments on hill slopes in the state.

The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) Penang division called on the Department Of Occupational Health And Safety (DOSH) to issue stop-work orders on all such projects in Penang until they comply with accepted soil erosion mitigating measures.

Its secretary, K. Veeriah, said the Department of Occupational Safety and Health must take action against those responsible for such incidents.

“We, further, call upon all other relevant authorities to commence their own investigations in the matter so as to ensure a holistic probe of this unwarranted tragedy,” he said in a statement today referring to the fatal landslide in Bukit Kukus, Paya Terubong.

The landslide on Friday killed seven foreign workers with three more feared still buried underneath the mud.

Search and rescue operations for the missing three are still underway.

The incident also came just two days short of the one-year anniversary of another deadly landslide in the state.

Veeriah said the state government, the contractors and all related agencies must be held responsible for the total disregard of advice by experts in the field on the dangers of hill clearings in Bukit Kukus.

“It is also our view that if such warnings had been heeded, and remedial course of actions instituted including suspension of work in progress, the tragedy of the unjust loss of lives of workers could have been avoided,” he said.

He said it is unforgivable that slope mitigating measures were not put in place by those involved in such hillside projects.

Taking aim at the Penang chief minister's statement that heavy rain could have been the underlying cause to the landslide, he said if the state government and the relevant authorities had taken proactive measures, the tragedy could have been avoided.

Veeriah also expressed his disappointment in the chief minister for saying that hill slope work-in-progress would not be stopped.

“Given the fact that there has not been any soil erosion mitigating measures taken at any of the hill slope developments in the state as reported we are appalled at his stand on the matter,” he said.

Aliran also echoed MTUC Penang’s call and said in a statement that this incident highlighted the issue of the foreign workers’ safety in construction sites.

It demanded to know about the site safety regulations and the safety measures taken in Bukit Kukus.

“Layering this issue is the controversial ongoing construction on or along the edge of hill slopes despite criticism from concerned groups and individuals,” it said in a statement issued today.

It noted that Penang Forum through its Penang Hill Watch group had raised the safety issue in hill slope clearings in the Bukit Kukus area to the state government and local authorities on two occasions previously.

It pointed out press reports quoting a consultant civil engineer that claimed soil erosion mitigation measures were not carried out at construction sites across the state.

“If safety guidelines for hill slope development are not being adhered to and if enforcement authorities are not functioning effectively, it becomes simply unethical to continue with hill slope development because not taking steps to guarantee the safety of workers places their lives at risk,” it said.

It said all plans that involve construction or development on hill slopes must be reviewed for workers’ safety measures, mitigation measures to ensure the stability of slopes, and environmental damage and impact.

Aliran also called for immediate and adequate support and compensation to those injured and to families of those killed in the landslide irrespective of the status of the workers.

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