Include Penang Forum in panel probing Bukit Kukus landslide tragedy

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Penang Forum deeply regrets the tragic loss of lives in the Bukit Kukus landslide tragedy on 19 October 2018, which claimed nine or more lives, just one year after the Granito landslide tragedy, which claimed 11 or more lives.

These tragedies shine the spotlight on the hazards of hill development, whether for housing or infrastructure and force us to re-examine the role of the authorities in undertaking and enabling such hill land development despite its own lack of monitoring capacity.

We note the Penang Island City Council is the owner of the Paya Terubong ‘paired road’ project, and we would like to see the records of how the council supervised its own project.

Bukit Kukus was highlighted after the November 2017 floods as a potential disaster waiting to happen, videos of this project, which went viral, showing mudflows. The former mayor went to inspect the site and asked for remedial measures.

If indeed, as is alleged, the contractor failed to comply with an erosion and sedimentation control plan, was this lack of compliance something that only happened a day or a week before the landslide – or has this been going on for months? Who was doing the checking and how often was it done, monthly or fortnightly? These reports should be made public.

Penalties: We urge the state and federal authorities to launch thorough investigations into the Bukit Kukus landslide tragedy and to identify those in the chain of responsibility who might be charged with negligence, wilful negligence or even criminal negligence.

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We urge the authorities to call for explanations, open up records and even demand resignations if necessary. We urge that the authorities impose the maximum penalties as a deterrent to prevent such needless loss of lives in future.

In the case of Granito, as we have seen, the main contractor was charged under Section 15(2) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 and only fined RM35,000 over safety violations that resulted in 11 individuals being buried alive.

Due to a loophole in the act, the developer has not been charged. In fact, the developer could be charged under the Street Drainage and Building Act 1974 Act 133, Section 71, which stipulates that for failure of building or earthwork during construction or after completion – where the cause of such failure is due to “misconstruction or lack of proper supervision during construction” — the maximum penalty would be RM500,000 or 10 years imprisonment.

We ask the authorities to include at least two members from Penang Forum – an engineer and a lawyer – to sit on any panel, state or federal, investigating the Bukit Kukus landslide tragedy. The minutes and notes should be made public. In the interest of transparency, members of such commissions should not be bound by secrecy laws.

Was Ops Lumpur set up to overcome the problem of ‘silo’ jurisdiction of the local authority, Drainage and Irrigation Department, Public Works Department, Department of Environment, district engineers and officers, and so forth – and if so, why did it fail to check the problems found on the city council’s own project site? We demand that the minutes of meetings and reports of Ops Lumpur be declassified and made available to the public.

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Due to the many incidents of ongoing hill construction, abandoned hill construction, exposed hills slopes and potential landslide areas all over Penang Island, we urge that Ops Lumpur be improved and intensified to check and rehabilitate these areas to prevent further disaster especially during the rainy season.

Penang Hills Watch, which has time and again alerted the authorities to hill clearings, should be invited as an observer to such operations and not be bound by secrecy laws. We emphasise that there should be consistent monitoring and not just one-off inspections.

Penang Forum demands greater transparency and accountability in the local authority’s regulatory role over the construction industry, especially in the matter of hill land development.

We again call upon the state to review its policies and guidelines of hill development and call for a moratorium on all hill development and highway projects over the hills. Until such a time when the state has a done a comprehensive check on all hill slopes, taken remedial action and completed the rehabilitation of hill slopes, hill development should be banned.

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