Press statement by Syerleena Abdul Rashid – MBPP Councillor – Georgetown, Penang, 31st October 2017
Having attended the recent forum organized by Penang Forum on Oct 29, 2017 – I am left wondering if the organization has been taken over by individuals with hidden political agendas. While there were moments of constructive suggestions, the spirit of non-partisanship has definitely been marred by those whose political leanings are well known through various media reports – both mainstream and online.
It fills me with great disappointment that the Penang Forum continues to misguide members of the public by insisting that the construction site accident that occurred on 21st October 2017, was a landslide triggered by overdevelopment and insinuating that the state government and local authorities failed to adhere to set regulations.
On Oct 22, 2017, the Penang Department of Occupational Safety and Health (Dosh) director, Rosdee Yaakob affirmed that the landslide was, in fact, a construction accident. Furthermore, in another statement which was published on Oct 23, 2017, Ir. Dr Tan Yean Chin who is the current President for the Malaysian Institution of Engineers (an institution that has over 40,000 members and affiliated to several international engineering organisations and field experts) had stated that based on observations “the Tanjung Bungah Development was not built on a hill slope, rather on the land adjacent to the hill slope”, thus, debunking the perception that the project was a ‘hill-site development”. The project involved ‘slopes with a gradient of about 20 degrees’ classifying this site as a Category 2 slope (15 to 25 degrees) thus categorizing it as a low land (tanah rendah) and not hill land (tanah bukit). Furthermore, the land contour of the project area, varied between 18 metres and 40 metres, which is well within acceptable limits.
Members of public must be made aware that Penang has stricter hill slope development guidelines compared to the rest of the country, and contrary to what is perceived, the Penang state government does not allow any developments on hill land above 76 metres – vastly different from the current national guidelines limits, which is set at 300 metres.
It is most regrettable that Penang Forum (through the speech Khoo Salma Nasution delivered at yesterday’s Mesyuarat Biasa Majlis) failed to mention the special projects that were approved by the previous Barisan Nasional lead state government. Currently in Sungai Ara, developer Sunway City is proposing a 32.4ha development consisting of high-rise apartments and bungalows, where nearly half will be situated on slopes above 25 degrees. It must be reminded that this project was approved as a special project on Sept 13, 1996 by the previous Barisan Nasional lead state government.
The Penang Structure Plan prohibits projects on hill land 76m over sea level or hill slopes with a gradient exceeding 25 degrees
In a statement made on Oct 30, 2017, State executive councillor Jagdeep Singh Deo, stated that the state government was initially cautious because of legal concerns where it was viewed that disapproving special projects submitted to the state government before 2008, would be subjected to hefty compensation. However, based on new legal opinions, the state government will challenge this decision and will wholeheartedly support affected residents in their suit against the developer of this hill project.
Indeed, the problems occurring in Penang can be said to stem from poor planning but the reality is this: decades of mismanagement has created the mess Penangites now face. The current state government has done its best to address this in ways that can benefit all stakeholders within the limitations we face – the lack of financial assistance from federal and more so, the heavily centralized system has made upgrading and repair works challenging. There is a lot of red tape bureaucracy at the moment and this is undoubtedly being exploited by those in the corridors of federal power.
The current Penang state government has always put forth transparency and accountability; whatever developments that have been approved or rejected by the MBPP’s One Stop Committee (OSC) is made readily available on the council website. Additionally, guidelines can be viewed and downloaded from the council website. Moreover, councillors (even those appointed by their respective Non Government Organizations) are given access to even confidential council documents and various platforms exists to enable one to voice out their concerns, raise questions or even to share constructive feedback to further improve our present system.
With regards to the construction site tragedy, a State Commission of Inquiry (SCI) headed by former Bar Council president Yeo Yang Poh, and two other highly esteemed geotechnical experts, Ramli Nazir of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and Gue See Sew, will commence thorough investigations to determine the causes of failure, propose improvements and bring those responsible to face the heavy hand of the law.
While I do not question the need for improvements and more so, seeking justice for the lives lost – a healthy approach must be made – preferably one that does not give way to irrational statements based on emotionally driven assumptions.
While I do not disagree with Khoo Salma’s statement “Extreme heavy rain and floods will be the “new normal”. Slope failure and landslides, unfortunately, will occur with greater frequency. In such a situation, we cannot get back to business as usual”, improvements must be made but it is also the government’s duty and responsibility that every single layer of society is given a chance to savor the same fruits of labour everyone does. The government of the day is also responsible to ensure that the demands of progress and development be met without leaving anyone behind.
Discourse and critical thinking are essential tools when it comes to securing progress in a democratic society; where unity and engaged participation are factors that determine the health of democracy instated. As always, our doors are always open and as someone who comes from a civil society background, I understand both the frustrations felt and the determination that is portrayed. Constructive feedback is always welcome, as we all want what’s best for Penang.
Penang is indeed a beautiful place to live and presents diverse uniqueness that other states within the federation envy. We have one goal, which is to make Penang a better place for everyone. Although, some of us may embark on different routes but our paths are bound to meet, one way or another. For the sake of Penang, let’s work together to bridge whatever gap that exists and for Penang’s future, let’s work on practical solutions that can benefit every one living in our fine gem of a state.
SYERLEENA ABDUL RASHID
Ahli Majlis/ Councillor
Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang/Penang Island City Council