While the coalition has focused on corruption, it has paid little attention to environmental degradation, says Ronald Benjamin.
On the morning of 21 October 2017, a landslide occurred at a housing construction site in Tanjung Bungah and 11 precious lives were lost.
It has been reported that 10 of those who died were foreign workers and one was a Malaysian. The Penang Pakatan state government was quick to respond by setting up a commission of inquiry to get to the root of the disaster – which is commendable.
Hopefully, the truth about this disaster would compel the federal government and state governments to come up with more stringent measures to protect the safety of workers besides putting a stop to human-made ecological disasters.
The question is, would the results of the inquiry propel the Pakatan Harapan and Barisan National political elites to come up with an economic model or blueprint that would pursue sustainable development that preserves the natural environment?
The foundational issue here is not merely about the failure to comply with work or environmental standards or who was responsible or whether proper approvals were obtain. It about understanding the nature of an economic system that plunders without constraints.
It is obvious that the framework of the commission of inquiry centres on the cause and effect of negligence rather the fundamental cause of the disaster, which is broad and rooted in the type of economic development that is pursued. There is a relationship between the type of economic ideology that is being pursued and its implications on the environment.
In any human-made ecological disaster, it is the working poor in the margins who suffer the most.
The term margins has great significance because it entails a system of economy where maximisation of profits is the sole objective at the expense of nature. Significant cost-cutting takes place so that profits are maximised. Credible safety measures are ignored; what more if it has to do with the safety of low-wage foreign labourers. A concrete interconnection between the economy, environment and safety is revealed.
Hill-top and hill-slope housing projects reveal this interconnection. The hills are an important part of the physical, biological and cultural landscape. Its sensitive ecosystems are prone to erosion and landslides. Economic tinkering creates an imbalance and may result in disaster.
We need to understand the finer aspects of the ecosystem and respect its limitation.
The landslide disaster in Tanjung Bungah reveals another fundamental question about Pakatan Harapan’s policy on the environment.
Until today, Pakatan Harapan leaders have not come out with an environmental blueprint that edthey could implement if they come to power. While the coalition has focus on corruption, it has paid little attention to environmental degradation such as hill-top development, the erosion of coastal ecosystems, and pollution in villages and cities.
Pakatan Harapan needs to come up with a comprehensive environmental blueprint for the whole country. It time that those who seek change persuade the Pakatan Harapan elites to come up with an environmental blueprint.
The question is, would Pakatan Harapan abandon neoliberal economics and embrace a sustainable economic system that protects the natural environmentl for future generations? That is the million-dollar question.