Wanted: Leaders who listen !


Turning a blind eye: The grumblings over exposed hills are growing louder but little is being done to rectify the situation

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5636613745001

 Grievances from residents warning of environmental damages must not fall on deaf ears

 “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.

MY family home in Kampung Melayu, Air Itam in Penang, is more than 56 years old. That’s about my age, and it has never been hit by floods. Not once!

But last week, my parents – dad is 92 years old and mum, 86, – had their sleep rudely interrupted sometime after 1am by water gushing into their home.

They have been sleeping on the ground floor for years now because they are too old to climb the stairs to their bedroom.

The water that flowed into their room almost touched the top of their bed but fortunately, one of my nephews and his wife from Kuala Lumpur were staying over that night.

It was so fortunate that they were there to calm my anxious parents down and assure them all would be fine. They managed to comfort my stunned folks, who had never experienced such an unpleasant situation before. My father had to be carried to the room upstairs as the house remained flooded throughout the early morning.

Our home was filled with layers of mud the next day and the cars parked outside were all damaged. They sadly look like write-offs.

My father’s pride and joy, his first-generation Proton Saga car – which he bought in 1985 – is now unusable.

A week on, my brothers and nieces are still cleaning up the mess from the massive flood. They haven’t had the time or mood to even assess the financial losses.

And bound by a common sentiment as Penangites, they are tired of the blame game, a trade the state’s politicians have plied to near-perfection.

How many times can the finger be pointed at the previous government, with the incumbent almost 10 years in power? And how many more times can we blame it on torrential rain, which came from Vietnam – or wherever? Worst of all is, when discussions are mooted on flood issues, the voices of the people are swiftly silenced.

It appears that even to talk about hillslope development, one would have to contest in the elections, or be perceived to be challenging the state government, or more extremely, be some kind of lackey in cahoots with the Federal Government.

Blaming everyone else except oneself is simply a way of covering up one’s weaknesses. But the discerning public, in a maturing democracy with heightened transparency and a huge middle class like Penang, will not tolerate such short-term manoeuvring for long.

Suddenly, civil society – a buzzword among politicians – has vanished, with NGOs now regarded as irritants and an affront to the state establishment. Politics is apparently the monopoly of politicians now.

As the National Human Rights Society aptly puts it, “With the benefit of hindsight, we are sure that the Penang government now realises that they should not so readily malign civil society, howsoever obliquely – for the legitimate and well-founded articulation of matters of great concern to civil society.

“This is because it undermines the fundamental values of a functioning democracy and the fundamental human rights of the populace at large.”

Perhaps, the state political elites, many of whom aren’t pure blood Penangites, don’t realise the state is the home of a vibrant civil society, with many active NGOs and activists who are respected influencers of society.

Having walked through the corridors of power and appreciated power’s pleasures, perks and the adulation it brings, maybe it is becoming much harder for people to take criticism. This is, in fact, a reflection of the arrogance of power.

Many have developed thin skin now, with little tolerance for the slightest form of criticism. If anyone even dares raise their voice, an army of cybertroopers, hiding behind anonymity, are unleashed to attack them.

Freedom of speech, it seems, is only the domain of the opposition, with some media (regarded as unfriendly) unceremoniously ridiculed and questioned for their attendance at press conferences.

There are politicians from the Federal Government, too, who are shamelessly cashing in on the flood situation in Penang.

Their relief work must be splashed across news pages, and they have to be seen wading through the flood waters for dramatic purpose. Phua Chu Kang’s iconic yellow boots could likely be the hottest item in the state, as politicians bask in the media’s glare.

Ridiculous remarks have also been passed, one even blaming the state government, saying it has earned the wrath of God.

The rain and floods will go away, eventually. Penangites are stakeholders in the state, and they don’t only make up politicians. The state doesn’t belong to the state government or the opposition.

Caught up in the thick of the action, we seem to have forgotten that the hills are crumbling even without rain. As a stern reminder, just last month, a landslide buried some people in Tanjung Bungah. Investigations on that tragedy are still ongoing.

Basically, the trees – which act as sponge on the hills – are gone. We don’t need to be soil experts to know that.

The grumblings are growing louder because the hills have been progressively going bald in recent years. But the voice of discontent has fallen on deaf ears.

Penangites are alarmed at what they are seeing, and they don’t like it one bit, as much as they understand that land is scarce on the island and property developers need to source some to build homes on.

While it’s easy to hang the Penang state government out to dry for its follies, it’s difficult to ignore how the floods in the east coast states have become annual affairs, too. So, what effective flood mitigation plans have been put in place there?

Kelantan has suffered senselessly, and after more than a year of having been subjected to Mother Nature’s havoc, many victims have yet to recover from their losses. Flooding is obviously nothing exclusive and doesn’t discriminate. Every state has, unfortunately, experienced it in some shape or form.

So, irrespective of location, when life returns to normal, you can expect the politicians to resume their old denying ways.

If there’s a thread that binds our politicians – regardless of which side of the political divide they come from – it is their inability to apologise for their mistakes, despite waxing lyrical about accountability.

Don’t expect them to say sorry, because an apology would be admission of guilt, or worse, a sign of weakness in their realm of inflated egos.

And to put things into perspective, perhaps we could learn a lesson from a quote by prominent American pastor Andy Stanley – “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”
On the beat Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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Call to reassess Penang hillside projects, councillor addresses full council meeting of MBPP


Council should not bow to development or political pressure, says city councilor, Khoo

 

‘Politicians should be ‘wakil rakyat’ and not ‘wakil pemaju’ – CAP legal advisor Meenakshi


A city councillor has called for the Penang Island City Council to impose a moratorium and reassess all development projects involving hill slopes in the wake of the deadly landslide on Oct 21.

THE Penang Island City Council (MBPP) has been urged to impose a moratorium on hill developments and reassess every hillside and hill slope development projects.

Khoo Salma Nasution said as a new councillor, she was surprised to learn that certain policies and guidelines were made at state level and then passed down to the council without discussion.

“As a body with the expertise and technical experience to handle physical development planning, the council should ensure its own rules are not compromised and should not bow to development pressure or political pressure just because Penang is a land-scarce state.

“The council is tasked with spearheading the city’s physical development according to the Town and Country Planning Act and the State Structure Plan 2020.

“The rules and guidelines must follow the Penang Structure Plan as well as minimum safety and environmental guidelines,” she said in her adjournment speech during the full council meeting at the City Hall yesterday.

Khoo urged the council to reaffirm all policies, processes, and guidelines to protect the hills.

“New planning rules for development projects, taking into account the public interest, environmental interest and the interest of affected stakeholders and neighbourhoods, need to be introduced as well,” she said.

Khoo said according to the State Structure Plan valid until 2020, development density was set at 15 housing units per acre (0.4ha) in a secondary corridor like Tanjung Bungah.

She said 30 units were allowed per acre in a primary corridor and 87 units per acre for transit-oriented development.

“The state government, however, has already raised the development density to 128 units per acre overall.

“When development is not planned according to the right principles, disaster is likely to happen,” she said.

MBPP mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif declined to comment as she had just received a copy of Khoo’s speech.

“I will definitely discuss the matter at the next full council meeting,” she said.

Source: The Star by N. Trisha

Related Links: 

 Penang Forum-nominated councillor addresses full council meeting of MBPP

This is Khoo Salma’s full address (the Malay version below) yesterday: I
was nominated by Penang Forum to be the representative and the voice of
NGOs, including Penang Hills Watch, in the Penang Island City Council
from early this year. My predecessor Dr Lim Mah Hui served with the
council for six years.

 

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Penang floods and landslides, looking beyound natural causes!


Seeking solutions: Penang Forum member and soil expert Dr Kam Suan Pheng giving her views during the dialogue session themed ‘Penang Floods: A Call for Action’ held at Teow Chew Association in Chulia Street, George Town.  (Top pic, front from right) Pulau Betong assemblyman Datuk Dr Muhammad Farid Saad, state Opposition Leader Datuk Jahara Hamid and Penanti assemblyman Dr Norlela Ariffin among the participants.
From left) Sim, Cheah, Dr Norlela, Jahara, Shah Headan, Lee and Yap occupying the front row at the dialogue on floods organised by Penang Forum.

Expert: Debris clogging waterways among reasons for flash floods

Some 200 people comprising mostly politicians, experts and residents gather in a dialogue session to discuss the long-standing problem plaguing Penang. Many voice their concerns that over-development in the state could be the cause of the headache.

HEAVY rainfall and high tides are natural causes of floods which cannot be avoided.

However, soil expert and scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng said there were also other reasons that caused the constant flash floods in Penang.

She said limited capacity to channel off discharge and surface flow which led to water accumulation downstream were some of the causes that resulted in flash floods.

“These issues have been addressed in flood mitigation.

“However, we also have to tackle the causes of increasing impermeable surface areas and debris clogging up waterways, which are also the root causes of flooding problems,” said Dr Kam in her talk on ‘Understanding the Causes of Floods and Seeking Solutions’ yesterday.

Dr Kam, who is also a Penang Forum member, said having proper planning on land usage and development controls, creating more urban spaces and parks besides river bank protection were also vital in flood prevention.

“Stringent monitoring on development projects and protection of hill land and hillslopes are important.

“To do so, policy and legal instruments have to be deployed, while environmentally sensitive and ecologically friendly structural and non-structural solutions should be adopted,” she said.

Dr Kam was one of the speakers at a dialogue session themed ‘Penang Floods: A Call for Action’ held at the Teow Chew Association in Chulia Street.

<< Stringent protection of hill land and hillslopes are vital, says Dr Kam.

Joint Resident Associations of Bandar Baru Ayer Itam chairman K. Suthakar said that for the past two to three years, residents living in Bandar Baru Ayer Itam have been suffering from flash floods.

He said there were some 20 housing schemes in the township comprising 10,000 housing units with a population of 16,000.

“The residents had to face the brunt of it when the whole city was underwater on Sept 15.

“I visited the retention ponds in Lebuh Rambai and Desa Permata Bandar Baru Ayer Itam on Saturday to check whether the ponds have been deepened.

“Sadly, nothing has been done,” he said.

He asked some of the state assemblymen, who were present at the dialogue session, to raise the issue when the state assembly convenes on Thursday.

When hills are at their natural state, they will not collapse, says Aziz Noor. >>

Environmental, health and safety consultant Aziz Noor, in his talk on ‘Implications of Hillside Development’, said landslides commonly happened on hillsides or slopes that were cleared.

“When the hills are at their natural state, they will not collapse.

“But when the natural state is violated with the slopes being cut, then landslides are bound to happen.

“Whenever there is a downpour on the cut hill slopes, there would be mudslides contributing to muddy flash floods as well,” he said.

Filepic of recent flooding in Taman Thean Tek, Ayer Itam, Penang.

The dialogue session saw a packed hall of almost 200 people, comprising mostly residents and representatives of residents associations who were affected by the recent flash floods.

Several state assemblymen and politicians from both sides of the divide also turned up at the event organised by Penang Forum and Residents Association of Penang.

Among those present were Penang Barisan Nasional chairman Teng Chang Yeow, state Opposition Leader Datuk Jahara Hamid, Pulau Betong assemblyman Datuk Dr Muhammad Farid Saad, Teluk Bahang assemblyman Datuk Shah Headan Ayoob Hussain Shah, Kebun Bunga assemblyman Cheah Kah Peng, Penanti assemblyman Dr Norlela Ariffin, Machang Bubuk assemblyman Lee Khai Loon, Pulau Tikus assemblyman Yap Soo Huey and Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin.

Sources: The Star by Logeiswary Thevadas

Engineer: Look out for ‘ticking time bombs’ from hill slopes

GEORGE TOWN: A geotechnical engineer has warned the authorities that steeply-cut hill slopes are “ticking time bombs” that need constant monitoring and maintenance.

Zeezy Global geotechnical and environmental consultant Aziz Noor said in view of the Tanjung Bungah landslide on Oct 21 that took the lives of 11 workers, all authorities, not only in Penang but throughout Malaysia, should keep an eye on all steep slopes as disaster might strike at any time.

He said although a hill slope might appear fine from the outside, it could be on the brink of collapse due to water pressure and vibrations from the surrounding environment.

“Most of these slopes are clay mixed with sand. Clay has an affinity ( to stick together). At particle level, they can hold up.

“When water comes down steep slopes they break the affinity of these particles. And yet they still hold up but it just speeds up the time of the collapse.

“That is why they do not fall right away. They are a time bomb, a disaster waiting to happen,” he said at a talk hosted by Penang Forum today.

Aziz, an American-trained environmental and geotechnical expert, was manager of an independent consultant engineering firm investigating the aftermath of the Highland Towers collapse in Ulu Kelang, Selangor, in 1993, in which 48 people were killed.

He said hills cut beyond their “natural angle” were the ones to watch out for.

“A hill slope that is cut beyond its natural stable angle is not a stable slope. Such slopes are at high risk of failure and can end up in landslides.

“When you have bare slopes like that, the portion of runoff is large; the steeper the slope, the faster the ‘teh tarik’ (mud slide) comes down.

“Basically, when the water runs off faster, the more erosion it causes, and the faster it will go down to lower-lying areas and cause flash floods with silt,” he said.

Aziz said to prevent such disasters from happening, engineers ought to cut hills at a more natural angle and ensure drain holes are built into them.

He said drain holes would release the “water stress” that might be building up beneath the slopes.

Aziz stressed that these measures were not one-off solutions and required constant monitoring from all parties.

“Ordinary folk might think, okay, looks like a nice concrete wall. But you do not know what is going on underneath, and hence, you need to maintain the hillslopes from time to time.

“That is why you see the slopes on our PLUS highway are constantly being maintained. It is something you do not mess around with,” he said.

Aziz said many construction sites cut corners by placing plastic sheets on cut hillslopes, which would not help much in preventing landslides.

“This is akin to putting a band-aid on a very sick person,” he said.

On the Tanjung Bungah landslide, Aziz said the state authorities must beef up their monitoring teams and place them on full patrol at all sites in the state.

“We need all the ‘jabatan’ (departments) to wake up and not sleep behind the wheel. Present-day laws are adequate to enforce and punish those who flout the law.”

Sources: Free Malaysia Today

Penangites upset with DAP reps for skipping dialogue

Front row, from right) Penang Barisan Nasional chairman Teng Chang Yeow, Pulau Betong representative Muhammad Farid Saad and state opposition leader Jahara Hamid at the Penang Forum dialogue on flood woes and hill site developments. – The Malaysian Insight pic, October 29, 2017.
RESIDENTS associations in Penang today were upset that most of their elected representatives skipped a dialogue on flood woes and hill site developments, as local civil society groups continue to push for a moratorium on hill projects.
Penang Forum, a coalition of local civil society groups, had invited the state’s elected reps, but fewer than 10 turned up at the dialogue that drew about 200 people to the Teochew Association in George Town.
The assemblymen seen among the crowd were state opposition leader Jahara Hamid (Teluk Air Tawar), Muhammad Farid Saad (Pulau Betong) and Shah Headan Ayoob Hussain Shah (Teluk Bahang) from Barisan Nasional (BN); and Cheah Kah Peng (Kebun Bunga), Dr Norlela Ariffin (Penanti) and Lee Khai Loon (Machang Bubok) from PKR.
Pulau Tikus rep Yap Soo Huey was the sole DAP assemblyman present while the only MP at the dialogue was PKR’s Sim Tze Tzin of Bayan Baru. The only other DAP member present was Penang Island City councillor Syerleena Abdul Razak.
Also present were Penang BN chairman Teng Chang Yeow, several Gerakan leaders, and Penang Front Party’s Patrick Ooi, who has been critical of the Penang government in the past.
Jahara said the BN reps in the Penang legislative assembly would table a motion to call for all hill land and slope projects to be halted.
“We are not here to point fingers, but fingers have to be pointed at the authorities,” she said.
Norlela, one of the most vocal PKR reps on local developmental issues, said she hoped Pakatan Harapan and BN could set aside their differences to solve flood woes and developmental issues in the state.
Norlela was one of five PKR government backbenchers who abstained from voting to reject a BN motion on land reclamation during the state legislative assembly in November 2015.
DAP holds the most seats in the Penang legislative assembly with 19 out of 40. PKR has 10 while PAS has one seat. BN’s Umno holds the remaining 10.
In a press conference last week after a landslide in Tanjung Bungah killed 11 construction workers, some residents association reps warned the state government that it could lose votes if it continued to allow hill site developments and ignored the people’s objections.
At the dialogue today, the joint residents association rep for Bandar Baru Ayer Itam, K. Suthakar, took a dig at the elected officials when speaking about flood woes in his area. He said Lebuhraya Thean Teik had “turned into a river” when a bad flood hit last month, causing residents to miss work and school.
“Why do they become elected reps? Because they want to serve the people, to solve their problems. But after the election, you don’t see them for three or four years. People are crying for help but you have no time to come,” he said.
Tanjung Bungah Residents Association chairman Meenakshi Raman also said she had expected more than 10 elected reps to attend the dialogue.
“We are disappointed that not many could attend. We had hoped to see more DAP reps,” she said.
It was learned that DAP had an internal party programme at the same time this morning on mainland Penang in preparation for the party’s special congress on Nov 12 to re-elect its central leadership committee.
Meenakshi said the residents association and other civil groups, which recently criticised the state government over hill site developments and flash flood incidents in Penang, were still willing to engage the powers that be in dialogue.
This was despite the association not getting replies to letters it recently sent out to all Penang assemblymen and MPs on its demands to solve flash flood problems.
“We are ordinary people. We have nothing against them, but some (leaders) have accused us of being arrogant. Elected reps must be accountable. There is nothing wrong with the people asking the state government and their YBs (assemblymen) what they are doing,” she told The Malaysian Insight after the dialogue.

Climate change
Meanwhile, Dr Kam Suan Pheng, an expert in geographical information systems, told the dialogue session that floods in Penang were caused by both weather conditions and human activities, adding that the situation would worsen with climate change.
“Since 2003, the emerging trend for rainfall is increasing. Flash floods will be more frequent, happening at lower rainfall thresholds.
“With climate change, we can expect heavier and more intense rainfall,” she said, adding that Penang’s urban drainage was not well planned enough to prevent floods.
Kam said the authorities must tackle the root causes with proper land use planning and development control, stringent protection of hills and river banks, strict monitoring of development projects, and by increasing the number of urban parks.
She said the authorities must also look beyond the environmental, drainage, transportation and social impacts of individual projects, use existing laws and policies and adopt eco-friendly solutions.
Aziz Noor – a consultant with more than 30 years’ experience in areas of environment, health and safety in Malaysia and overseas – said Penang should take the recent Lembah Permai landslide as a wake-up call.
“Legislative controls are more than adequate but compliance is sporadic. Enforcement has been weak,” said Aziz, who is managing director of Penang-based consulting firm Zeezy Global.
Another speaker at the dialogue, lawyer Agatha Foo, said legally, the state should stop development on ecologically-sensitive land over 76m above sea level and on slopes over 25 degrees gradient using existing laws and guidelines.
She also said the authorities could impose strict enforcement, and seek a jail sentence for company directors whose firms violate the law as a more effective deterrent than fines. – October 29, 2017.

 

Looi Sue-ChernSource: The Malaysian Insight by   
Related Link:

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The day the earth moved – Analysis

Penang’s ‘balding’ Bukit Relau under the spotlight

Group: Stop approving hill slope projects – Metro News

Forum gets tepid response from reps – Nation

Project’s final approval came from Penang authorities – Nation

Penang DAP: We respect Teh’s decision to quit party – Nation

Tanjung Bungah rep wants to quit DAP – Nation

 

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Front row, from right) Penang Barisan Nasional chairman Teng Chang Yeow, Pulau Betong representative Muhammad Farid Saad and state opposition leader Jahara Hamid at the Penang Forum dialogue on flood woes and hill site developments. – The Malaysian Insight pic, October 29, 2017.

RESIDENTS associations in Penang today were upset that most of their elected representatives skipped a dialogue on flood woes and hill site developments, as local civil society groups continue to push for a moratorium on hill projects.

Penang Forum, a coalition of local civil society groups, had invited the state’s elected reps, but fewer than 10 turned up at the dialogue that drew about 200 people to the Teochew Association in George Town.

The assemblymen seen among the crowd were state opposition leader Jahara Hamid (Teluk Air Tawar), Muhammad Farid Saad (Pulau Betong) and Shah Headan Ayoob Hussain Shah (Teluk Bahang) from Barisan Nasional (BN); and Cheah Kah Peng (Kebun Bunga), Dr Norlela Ariffin (Penanti) and Lee Khai Loon (Machang Bubok) from PKR.

Pulau Tikus rep Yap Soo Huey was the sole DAP assemblyman present while the only MP at the dialogue was PKR’s Sim Tze Tzin of Bayan Baru. The only other DAP member present was Penang Island City councillor Syerleena Abdul Razak.

Also present were Penang BN chairman Teng Chang Yeow, several Gerakan leaders, and Penang Front Party’s Patrick Ooi, who has been critical of the Penang government in the past.

Jahara said the BN reps in the Penang legislative assembly would table a motion to call for all hill land and slope projects to be halted.

“We are not here to point fingers, but fingers have to be pointed at the authorities,” she said.

Norlela, one of the most vocal PKR reps on local developmental issues, said she hoped Pakatan Harapan and BN could set aside their differences to solve flood woes and developmental issues in the state.

Norlela was one of five PKR government backbenchers who abstained from voting to reject a BN motion on land reclamation during the state legislative assembly in November 2015.

DAP holds the most seats in the Penang legislative assembly with 19 out of 40. PKR has 10 while PAS has one seat. BN’s Umno holds the remaining 10.

In a press conference last week after a landslide in Tanjung Bungah killed 11 construction workers, some residents association reps warned the state government that it could lose votes if it continued to allow hill site developments and ignored the people’s objections.

At the dialogue today, the joint residents association rep for Bandar Baru Ayer Itam, K. Suthakar, took a dig at the elected officials when speaking about flood woes in his area. He said Lebuhraya Thean Teik had “turned into a river” when a bad flood hit last month, causing residents to miss work and school.

“Why do they become elected reps? Because they want to serve the people, to solve their problems. But after the election, you don’t see them for three or four years. People are crying for help but you have no time to come,” he said.

Tanjung Bungah Residents Association chairman Meenakshi Raman also said she had expected more than 10 elected reps to attend the dialogue.

“We are disappointed that not many could attend. We had hoped to see more DAP reps,” she said.

It was learned that DAP had an internal party programme at the same time this morning on mainland Penang in preparation for the party’s special congress on Nov 12 to re-elect its central leadership committee.

Meenakshi said the residents association and other civil groups, which recently criticised the state government over hill site developments and flash flood incidents in Penang, were still willing to engage the powers that be in dialogue.

This was despite the association not getting replies to letters it recently sent out to all Penang assemblymen and MPs on its demands to solve flash flood problems.

“We are ordinary people. We have nothing against them, but some (leaders) have accused us of being arrogant. Elected reps must be accountable. There is nothing wrong with the people asking the state government and their YBs (assemblymen) what they are doing,” she told The Malaysian Insight after the dialogue.

Climate change

Meanwhile, Dr Kam Suan Pheng, an expert in geographical information systems, told the dialogue session that floods in Penang were caused by both weather conditions and human activities, adding that the situation would worsen with climate change.

“Since 2003, the emerging trend for rainfall is increasing. Flash floods will be more frequent, happening at lower rainfall thresholds.

“With climate change, we can expect heavier and more intense rainfall,” she said, adding that Penang’s urban drainage was not well planned enough to prevent floods.

Kam said the authorities must tackle the root causes with proper land use planning and development control, stringent protection of hills and river banks, strict monitoring of development projects, and by increasing the number of urban parks.

She said the authorities must also look beyond the environmental, drainage, transportation and social impacts of individual projects, use existing laws and policies and adopt eco-friendly solutions.

Aziz Noor – a consultant with more than 30 years’ experience in areas of environment, health and safety in Malaysia and overseas – said Penang should take the recent Lembah Permai landslide as a wake-up call.

“Legislative controls are more than adequate but compliance is sporadic. Enforcement has been weak,” said Aziz, who is managing director of Penang-based consulting firm Zeezy Global.

Another speaker at the dialogue, lawyer Agatha Foo, said legally, the state should stop development on ecologically-sensitive land over 76m above sea level and on slopes over 25 degrees gradient using existing laws and guidelines.

She also said the authorities could impose strict enforcement, and seek a jail sentence for company directors whose firms violate the law as a more effective deterrent than fines. – October 29, 2017.

 

Looi Sue-ChernSource: The Malaysian Insight by   
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Penang Paya Terubong Residents living under shadow of fear!


Put on hold: A view of the site for the development of four apartment buildings in Paya Terubong, Air Itam.

GEORGE TOWN: Since the deadly landslide in Tanjung Bungah, people in Paya Terubong are looking over their shoulder – and up at a nearby hill.

They have been trying for years to stop a project comprising four towers, each over 40 storeys tall, approved on a hillside across the road from their homes.

Because the project has already been approved, the residents are down to one last resort – the state Planning Appeals Board.

“We must try. The only thing between our homes and those four towers will be a new two-way street that the developer will build if this project goes on,” said Taman Sri Rambai and Taman Lau Geok Swee Residents’ Association chairman Dr Ti Lian Geh.

The plan, he said, was supposed to be six-storey townhouses but the developer put in a request to change it to high-density apartments.

He said the residents have been living in fear after learning that the development plan was changed to three blocks of 47-storey luxury apartments and a 41-storey block of affordable housing.

He said a hearing is ongoing with the Planning Appeals Board to stop the development.

“Building skyscrapers on a steep hillslope is dangerous. If the towers come down, the whole neighbourhood will be gone,” he said, adding that the high-density project will also worsen traffic congestion there.

He told a press conference yesterday that the earthworks two years ago caused frequent flash floods, mudslides and torrential mudflows in the neighbourhood.

Penang MCA and Gerakan, which organised the press conference, urged the state government to revoke the approval.

Bukit Gelugor MCA division deputy secretary Choong Jun Jie said that every time there is a downpour, the residents worry.

“We do not want another tragedy,” he said.

Penang Gerakan vice-chairman Oh Tong Keong said people’s lives are in jeopardy when highrise projects are given priority.

The staggered hillslope is now covered with geotextile sheets after the Penang Island City Council issued a stop-work order about two years ago.

Penang Island City Council Engineering Department director Addnan Mohd Razali said all construction work there except for mitigation measures have been stopped pending the outcome of the residents’ appeal.

Source: The Star by Logeiswary Thevadass and Rena Lim

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Penang landslide, whose faults?


GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Island City Council has lodged a police report against the consultant of the affordable housing project that was hit by a landslide in Tanjung Bungah on Saturday, claiming the lives of 11 workers.

This is because the state government wants the matter investigated and the responsible parties to be charged, state Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said.

He stressed that the incident was a construction site accident.

“We hope the council and other related agencies will give their fullest cooperation to the police,” he told a press conference at Komtar yesterday.

At the same conference, Mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif acknowledged that the project was rejected by the Department of Environment (DOE) but said it was approved by the state because it complied with Penang’s Safety Guidelines for Hill Site Development 2012.

Besides, she said, the DOE had approved a residential project and a private education institution that were even closer to the quarry.

“It is located more than 500m from the quarry’s blasting point while federal guidelines only require a minimum distance of 350m.

“The project’s site is zoned as ‘general residential’ and the slope gradient is less than 20°.

What a mess: Some groups believe that if the
DOE’s advice had been heeded, the landslide tragedy could have been
avoided. — Bernama

“The land is also less than 76m above sea level with the site located on a contour between 18m and 40m,” she said.

Maimunah said that based on all the requirements, the council’s One-Stop Centre (OSC) – which comprises members from more than 20 technical agencies at state and federal level – agreed to approve the project.

The OSC is in charge of approving property development plans on the island.

“The earthworks planning permission was presented to the OSC on May 14, 2015, and it was approved with conditions on June 6, 2015, while the commencement of work approval was given on Jan 18 last year,” she said.

However, the Tanjung Bungah Residents Association was not happy with the reasons given by the council for allowing the project.

“How could the council ignore the advice when the DOE is the authority responsible for protecting the environment?” association chairman Meenakshi Raman asked.

Penang Island City Council mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif telling a press conference that the project met state guidelines.

“If they had heeded the DOE’s advice, this tragedy could have been avoided and lives would not have been lost.”

“We feel betrayed … the state government failed to listen to us,” she said yesterday, commenting on Maimunah’s statements at the press conference.

Penang Federal Action Council chairman Datuk Seri Zainal Abidin Osman urged the state government to immediately set up an independent body to audit all approvals of hillslope development projects made by the various state authorities.

“The Penang government has to take responsibility and be accountable for the tragedy involving the loss of 11 lives.

“We ask it to stop blaming others for any accident which occurred since it became the state government.

“We are surprised that a project which was not supported by a technical department was still given approval by the state authority,” he said in a statement.

An undertaker (in white) and a priest performing prayers at the scene of
the landslide for site supervisor Yuan Kuok Wern, 27, who was killed in
the tragedy.

The Institution of Engineers Malaysia (IEM) also came forward to offer technical assistance and opinions in the investigation.

Its president Dr Tan Yean Chin said in a statement that IEM is recognised locally and internationally as a professional body representing a wide cross-section of the engineering practice.

“As a learned society with over 40,000 members and affiliated to several international engineering organisations, IEM is able to offer expert opinions on this tragic event,” he said.

Source: The Starby lo tern chern, logeiswary thevadass, cavina lim, crystal chiam shiying, r. sekaran, rahmah ghazali, danial albakri

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Corruption has no place in any culture


LATELY, we have been seeing many photographs and a lot of video footage of handcuffed men and women in orange T-shirts bearing the words “Lokap SPRM”.

These are people who have been arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in connection with its investigations. Lokap SPRM is the Bahasa Malaysia term for the MACC lock-up.

Some of these men and women have been or will be charged in court for offences such as offering or soliciting bribes and abuse of power. If they are guilty, they will be punished.
But what if the wrongdoing is partly to do with how the private sector operates?

If businessmen believe that greasing someone’s palm is an acceptable way to get ahead of the competition, and if a company’s culture tolerates or even encourages corrupt practices, why should the employees be the only ones held accountable when the authorities enforce the law?

It is not easy, however, to prove that a company has criminal intent.

This will matter less if there are provisions in the law that deem companies responsible if employees commit certain offences in the course of their work.

This concept of corporate liability for the crimes of employees has been introduced in countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia.

Malaysia has long talked about introducing such provisions.

In July 2013, for example, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low said the Government wanted to introduce a “corporate liability law”.

The idea is to hold boards of directors and CEOs of companies responsible for bribes given by their employees unless it is proven that there are measures in place within the organisation to prevent corruption.

Since then, Low and senior MACC officers have several times brought up this matter.

It appears that the plan is to either amend the MACC Act or to come up with a fresh piece of legislation.

At one point, Low said the Bill would be tabled by March this year and that the new provisions would come into effect in 2018.

However, the draft legislation has yet to reach Parliament.

The latest update was from MACC deputy chief commissioner (operations) Datuk Azam Baki, who was quoted in a Sin Chew Daily report this week saying that the Cabinet had approved the Bill for the Corporate Liability Act and that it would be tabled in October.

It is understandable if the business community is less than enthusiastic about this.

There is always the fear that an employer will be unfairly blamed for an employee’s lack of integrity.

There is also the well-worn argument that complying with additional rules and regulations will increase costs amid already challenging conditions.

It is likely, however, that the new provisions are applicable only if the companies cannot demonstrate that they have done all they can to prevent the offences, or if they are negligent in addressing the risks of such offences being committed.

We will have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, businesses should examine their practices and procedures.

It is definitely in the best interest of a company to ensure that its employees understand well that corruption is not part of its corporate culture.

For that matter, corruption should not be part of any culture.

– Sunday Star Says

Amend MACC Act to give it more bite

TRANSPARENCY International Malaysia (TI-M) hails the call by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to amend Section 23 of the MACC Act 2009 to give it greater clarity so that corrupt practices and other related offences could be better tackled especially in state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

As stated by MACC deputy commissioner (Operations) Datuk Azam Baki, MACC needs more bite to act against corrupt public officials including ministers, assemblymen and politicians.

TI-M also supports MACC on the recently proposed new law known as “Misconduct for Civil Service Act”, where civil servants who caused substantial financial losses to the Government due to negligent acts or non-compliance with official policies or procedures would face criminal charges under this proposed new Act.

TI-M has been advocating for these amendments to the existing MACC Act for the past several years and hopes to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Section 23 of the MACC Act 2009 prohibits “an officer of a public body” or public officials from abusing their power for any gratification for themselves or for their relatives. TI-M shares Azam’s opinion that many politicians are being appointed into SOEs and public interest entities (PIEs).

In addition, TI-M is also looking forward to the inclusion of the corporate liability provisions into the MACC Act 2009, which will ultimately hold companies accountable for corruption cases involving their employees.

Currently, when an employee is caught for corruption or bribery, he or she will face the consequences and can be charged individually. The company which the respective employee works for is not held liable for its employees’ acts, as in law the company not being a human person is not capable of having criminal intent.

With the introduction of the corporate liability provisions, companies can be held accountable for their employees’ involvement in corruption or bribery if they are found to have failed to take adequate steps to prevent such corrupt acts by their employees.

When this becomes a reality, employers in the private sector would have no choice but to initiate anti-corruption programmes in their companies/organisations to mitigate and eventually eradicate corrupt practices.

TI-M, meanwhile, has been encouraging companies in the private sector to adopt the ISO 37001 Anti Bribery Management System as an initiative to put in place all the preventive controls and systems while simultaneously getting the top management to commit to the elimination of any form of bribery in their organisations.

On the proposed Misconduct for Civil Service Act, any effort or law to address misconduct which results in loss of taxpayers’ money should be lauded.

However, we would like to raise the issue of whether the proposed law should only apply to civil servants. What about instances where orders or instructions come from politicians or persons in elected positions? Should they not also be held liable if proven to be involved?

Any proposed law should fairly apply to everyone involved in the decision-making process, and that includes politicians.

Azam has been reported saying that each year, the AuditorGeneral’s Report reveals a litany of malpractices among government departments and agencies, some of which are outrageous, for which the civil servants responsible should be charged with criminal offences instead of just disciplinary action under the domestic rules applicable to them.

TI-M supports these new measures proposed by the MACC and hopes that the Government will give due consideration and also fully support the same by effecting the necessary changes in the law. This would ensure that we plug the existing loopholes in our anti-corruption laws.

DATUK AKHBAR SATAR President Transparency International Malaysia

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Home locked by Penang City Council over RM468 paltry arrears of assessment


Hard lesson: After settling his assessment arrears, Chua Yung Lin, 37, finally receives the key (inside envelope) to unlock the chain used to seal up his unit at Taman Seri Hijau in Van Praagh Road, Penang. (Above) A closeup of the notice from the council pasted on the grille gate. — CHARLES MARI ASOOSAY/The Star

A SALESMAN is furious that his apartment unit was padlocked by the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) because he failed to pay two years of assessment arrears amounting to RM468.86.

A council official, however, defended the action, saying that MBPP was empowered to do so under the Local Government Act 1976 if a ratepayer failed to pay a year’s assessment.

Chua Yung Lin, 37, got the keys to the padlock when he paid up the arrears as well as the RM111.86 second half assessment for this year and a RM20 penalty in Komtar on Wednesday after a neighbour informed him a day earlier that the MBPP had sealed the unit.

But he is adamant in not unlocking the padlock himself, saying that the council should do so as its officials were the ones who locked up the unit.

“They gave me all the keys to the padlock and when I asked them if I needed to return the chain and padlock, they told me I could keep them,” Chua told reporters outside the unit at Taman Seri Hijau in Van Praagh Road, Penang, yesterday.

He lodged a police report on Wednesday to inform the police that he had settled the arrears and for his safety should he decide to unlock the place himself.

Chua, who has been renting out the unit for the past three years, said it was dangerous for MBPP to padlock the unit as there could be someone inside who would not be able to escape should there be an emergency.

“Thankfully, there was no one in the apartment as I think my tenants have gone out of town,” he added.

He claimed to have forgotten to pay the assessment because his tenants did not inform him of the bills.

Penang Gerakan vice-chairman Lee Boon Ten said MBPP had acted prematurely and could be charged with criminal negligence for sealing the gate of an occupied home.

“He only owed them a nominal amount. If someone was inside the apartment when they locked it, it would have been false imprisonment,” said Lee who was also present.

MBPP treasury revenue unit head Suhaida Kamalul Ariffin said Section 148(3) of the Local Government Act 1976 empowered the council to seal premises whose owners defaulted in a year’s assessment payment but the council usually only did so after the arrears were accumulated for two years.

“We can actually break down the door and seize the belongings inside. If we don’t do that to avoid destroying the door, we will seal the premises as an indication to the owner. This is however only carried out after we have checked to see if anyone is inside.

“Only after we are sure it is unoccupied, do we seal the premises,” she said when contacted yesterday.

Suhaida also said the council pasted a notice demanding the owner to settle the arrears on the unit’s grille gate in May.

“There was no response, leading us to seal the apartment. Once payment is made, we usually give the owner the keys to the lock as it is standard procedure to let them unlock it themselves,” she said.

Source: The Star

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