Why was landslide-hit project approved, ask civil groups

Low Han Shaun

Penang Forum member Dr Lim Mah Hui and legal advisor Meenakshi Raman speaking to reporters in Tanjung Bungah. Civil society groups and resident associations say the landslide-hit project should not have been approved by the Penang Island City Council. – The Malaysian Insight pic, October 23, 2017.

CIVIL society groups and resident associations in Penang are shocked that the developer involved in the landslide-hit project in Tanjung Bungah was given the green light by the state government and Penang Island City Council despite not having Department of Environment’s approval. 

Meenakshi Raman, legal advisor to the Tanjung Bungah Residents Association, Penang Resident Association, Sahabat Alam Malaysia and Consumer’s Association of Penang, said the project should not have been approved after its application for planning permission was rejected by the DoE.

“We were shocked to learn the DoE had rejected this project in January 23, 2015 and that despite this, the state government and local council went on.

“This was against the advice of the DoE. How did this happen?” she said to reporters in Tanjung Bungah today.

A landslide hit the the construction site of the affordable apartments project in Tanjung Bungah on Saturday, claiming 11 lives.

Meenakshi said the DoE was also to blame for the incident as the department did not follow through after their disapproval of the project.

“The DoE should have followed through, they are responsible too. What they usually say is this is a state matter and for the local authorities, but if they have powers under the Environmental Quality Act, they should have prevented it from happening,” she said.

The Environmental Quality Act (EQA) of 1974 concerns the prevention, abatement and control of pollution and enhancement of the environment in Malaysia.

Meenakshi said if recommendations were treated only as “guidelines”, there was no reason to form the department.

“If a guideline is not followed, what is the point of having the guideline? 

“If the government which is supposed to follow the law does not, who is going to follow the law?” she said.

She added that according to the Penang Island structure plan, the Tanjung Bungah area is a secondary corridor area, where there should not be a “density of 15 units per .4ha.”

“This kind of project violates the structure plan,” she said.

Dr Lim Mah Hui, a member of the Penang Forum who was also present at the press conference, rebutted Deputy Chief Minister II P. Ramasamy’s claim that the landslide was not related to hillside development.

Lim said this was no mere worksite accident as it was “not the workers’ responsibility to understand whether there is going to be a landslide or whether there is danger”.

“It is the engineers’ responsibilty, and I’m not talking only about the engineers of the developers, but also the engineers of the government authorities.

“The safety guidelines for hill slope development clearly state that the geotechnical department of the council are responsible for this task,” he said.

Formerly a Penang island city councillor for six years, Lim said he understood the workings of the council’s departments and said the geotechnical department was understaffed.

“(This is) unlike in Hong Kong, where the council has a staff of 200 well-trained engineers, and each is assigned a few hillslopes for which they are responsible.

“So the question is, if you have these guidelines but you don’t have the capacity, how can you approve so many projects?

He also questioned whether the state government followed their regulations as private developers are left to conduct their own environmental assessments.

“Until and unless we have the capacity (to conduct thorough environmental assessments), we should not be approving the projects and just simply depending on the private sector to do their own policing,” he said. – October 23, 2017.

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