Penang undersea tunnel project scrutinized by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC)


In troubled waters: An artist’s impression showing where the tunnel project will start on the island.

 

 

Land swap under MACC scrutiny

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian-Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) probe into the controversial Penang undersea tunnel is focused on land swaps that were made for the feasibility and detailed design study which has yet to be completed.

Sources said investigators are scouring documents involving two plots of land – Lot 702 and Lot 713 in Bandar Tanjung Pinang – with a size of 1.48ha and 2.31ha respectively.

The value of Lot 702 is around RM135mil while Lot 713 is around RM160mil.

It is learnt that both parcels of land have since been mortgaged to banks to obtain financing. The state government has also authorised planning permission on both parcels of lands.

“The state government paid the consultant for the feasibility studies by means of two land swaps. The cost for the feasibility study is around RM305mil.

“It has become an issue on why the study cost was inflated so much when it should have been an estimated RM60mil,” sources said, adding that determining the inflation and the reason behind it were among the challenges faced by the investigating team.

The sources also said that the graft-busters have their sights targeted on “somebody” who has been enjoying kickbacks and entertainment from the deal.

The feasibility and detailed design study is for the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Perai.

It is part of the RM6.3bil mega project comprising a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Yesterday, the investigating team also questioned four officers from several state government agencies on the land swaps.

Sources added that the anti-graft agency also raided a property agency office in Penang and carted various documents away. It is learnt the chief executive officer of the company was not around during the raid.

MACC deputy chief commissioner Datuk Seri Azam Baki said his investigating team has yet to call in any witnesses for the case as they are still conducting a thorough study on the seized documents.

He added that the officers would still be obtaining more documents from the companies involved and also from the state government.

 

Two bosses of construction firms held for six days as MACC investigates project

Datuks’ remanded in tunnel probe

Taken away: Officers escorting one of the men out of the courthouse in Putrajaya.

MACC digs deeper

A swap involving two parcels of land worth close to RM300mil is in the spotlight as the MACC intensifies investigations into claims of corruption in Penang’s undersea tunnel project and several accompanying highway projects. Two ‘Datuks’ have been remanded and several key officials in companies and agencies involved in the project have been questioned. But Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says the project will go on.

GEORGE TOWN: Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says the undersea tunnel project, now the subject of a corruption investigation, will proceed unless there is a court order to stop it.

He said he was baffled by yet another investigation into the project as the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) had been conducting an investigation into the RM6.3bil mega project comprising the tunnel and three other highways since 2016.

“What are they investigating now? Is it because of the looming general election?

“The project was awarded via an open tender overseen by international accounting firm KPMG.

“Still, I have instructed everyone involved to give their full cooperation to the MACC in its investigation as we have nothing to hide,” said Lim at a press conference at Komtar yesterday.

On Tuesday, graft-busters arrested two “Datuks” involved in the controversial Penang undersea tunnel project to help in investigations into claims of corruption.

The duo, who were picked up in Putrajaya and Penang, have since been remanded for six days to facilitate the probe.

The anti-graft agency raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies – Ewein Zenith Sdn Bhd, 555 Capital Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd’s Penang office.

MACC officers also questioned several officers in charge of the respective agencies and companies. Sources familiar with the investigation said the probe into the undersea tunnel project was also zooming in on land swaps.

Ewein Zenith is a joint-venture vehicle of Ewein Land Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd.

The latter is a Malaysia-China joint venture that was awarded the RM6.3bil mega project to build the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai, a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Consortium Zenith BUCG changed its name to Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd on Jan 18 last year after the withdrawal of Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG).

In a related development, Vertice Bhd (formerly known as Voir Holdings Bhd) said the current investigation by the MACC will not impact the progress of the undersea tunnel project.

It said the project was an integral component of the Penang Transport Master Plan and that the role of Consortium Zenith Construction as the main contractor would remain.

Consortium Zenith Construction is a 13.2% associate company of Vertice. PUTRAJAYA: Two high-ranking bosses of development and construction companies have been remanded for six days as graft investigators continue their probe of the Penang undersea tunnel project. The two “Datuks” were held here and in Penang before being brought to court.

A 59-year-old businessman was brought to a magistrate’s court here at 9.40am yesterday and remanded for six days until Monday to help with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) investigation.

Magistrate Fatina Amyra Abdul Jalil allowed MACC prosecutors’ remand application although the Datuk’s lawyer Hamidi Mohd Noh objected, arguing that there was no need for his client to be held.

“I told the court that my client has been cooperative with the MACC.

“I would also like to point out that my client is innocent and his remand is only to assist the investigation,” he told reporters after the proceedings.

The MACC had initially asked for the Datuk to be held for seven days but the magistrate only allowed six days.

He was arrested at the MACC headquarters at around 8.45pm on Tuesday after being called for his statement to be recorded.

In George Town, another Datuk was brought to court for a remand application at 11.40am.

He was handcuffed and wearing MACC’s orange lock-up T-shirt with black pants when he arrived at the courthouse escorted by MACC officers.

The 49-year-old appeared calm and smiled to reporters but did not say anything before he was led inside.

Deputy registrar Muhammad Azam Md Eusoff granted a six-day remand order and the businessman was escorted out of the courthouse about 30 minutes later.

The case is being investigated under Section 16(a)(B) of the MACC Act 2009 for bribery.

It is also believed that one of the Datuks remanded yesterday tested positive for drugs.

On Tuesday, MACC personnel raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies believed to be related to the case.

The project involves a plan to bore a 6.5km tunnel below the seabed to connect north Butterworth and the island.

The tunnel is to connect Bagan Ajam, a mature suburb of about 5km from the Butterworth ferry terminal, to the end of Gurney Drive near the Pangkor Road junction on the island.

Connected to the project are three paired roads to be built on the island as a traffic dispersal system to cope with the traffic that the tunnel would bring to Gurney Drive, which is already densely developed.

The three paired roads are from Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bungah, from Pangkor Road to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway – part of this stretch will be underground – and from Air Itam to the expressway near the Penang bridge.

To finance the construction, projected to cost RM6.3bil, the state government is giving payment in kind of 44.5ha of state land to the contractor, Consortium Zenith Construction.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng told the state assembly in 2014 that the land was valued at RM1,300 per sq ft and the project, ending with the tunnel, is scheduled for completion in 2025.

It was reported last March that RM135mil worth of land had been given to the contractor as payment to fund the feasibility studies and detailed studies.

A public-listed company announced in January 2016 that it had secured an agreement to buy 20.2ha of the land from the contractor over 10 years at RM1,300 per sq ft.

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the contractor to presell state land despite delays in the project construction.

More to be called up for questioning

GEORGE TOWN: Investigations into allegations of corruption in the proposed Penang Undersea Tunnel project are expected to deepen with more people likely to be called up for questioning.

A source in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said the focus was on the feasibility and detailed design study, which had been paid for but not completed.

“We will call in more people involved in the project to assist in investigations into the study,” the source said.

He declined to comment on whether more arrests would follow after two “Datuks” were remanded for six days yesterday to help in the investigations.

The two were remanded in George Town and Putrajaya for investigations into the corruption allegations.

The MACC source declined to share details on evidence collected that led to the remand of the two Datuks yesterday but confirmed that it was about the delayed feasibility study and detailed designs.

The feasibility, detailed design studies and environmental impact assessment was reported to cost RM305mil with RM220mil already paid. Since 2015, NGOs, government agencies, political parties and state assemblymen had asked about the payment and studies, only to be met with replies they considered unsatisfactory.

Last July, the Works Ministry and Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM) repeatedly asserted that Penang significantly overpaid, by four times, design fees involving three roads.

Barisan Nasional strategic communications director Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan sought the professional opinion of BEM, and it was reported that BEM replied that the detailed design costs were four times higher than the maximum allowed under the gazetted scale of fees based on the total project cost.

Last August, the state government declared that the feasibility studies would be ready by September.

In October, however, Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof said his ministry “had not seen a single page” of it.

Source: By mazwin nik anis, royce tan, arnold loh, r. sekaran, simon khoo The Staronline

 

MACC to make more arrests – Penang undersea tunnel project

More arrests are likely in the investigations into claims of corruption in Penang’s RM6.3bil project involving an undersea tunnel and three highways after MACC officers raided 12 more places and took statements from a dozen witnesses. They are looking into an agreement on payments to the concessionaires but Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says there was no wrongdoing and that not a single sen has been paid for the undersea tunnel project.

PETALING JAYA: Investigators looking into the allegation of corruption in the Penang undersea tunnel project are said to be thoroughly looking through the papers related to the contract for the feasibility study for the undersea tunnel.

“The agreement looks suspicious and the feasibility study for the mega project does not exceed RM305mil as announced by the state government,” sources said.

“The state government might have made a payment which is way different than the real value of the study,” they said.

On Thursday, The Star reported that the graft-busters were zooming in on the land swaps of two plots of land in Bandar Tanjung Pinang.

The sources also say that the reclaimed land for the land swaps were of high value for development. It is believed that the state JKR has set the value for the study and that allegations of misappropriation were raised when the value that was paid far exceeded the initial value.

To finance the construction of the tunnel and three paired roads on the island, projected to cost RM6.3bil, the state government is giving payment in kind of 44.5ha of state land to the contractor, Consortium Zenith Construction.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had told the state assembly in 2014 that the land was valued at RM1,300 per sq ft and the project, ending with the tunnel, is scheduled for completion in 2025.

It was reported last March that RM135mil worth of land had been given to the contractor as payment to fund the feasibility studies and detailed studies. However, the study has not been completed although the land has been handed over.

A public- listed company announced in January 2016 that it had secured an agreement to buy 20.2ha of the land from the contractor over 10 years at RM1,300 per sq ft.

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the contractor to presell state land despite delays in the project construction and the study.

Source: The Star Malaysia reports by MAZWIN NIK ANIS and INTAN AMALINA MOHD ALI

Related stories:

MACC probe shifts to bidding process – Nation | The Star Online

MACC looking at how RM305mil was paid – Nation | The Star Online

MACC focussing on Penang tunnel project studies, sources say …

Lim: Not a single sen paid for Penang undersea tunnel project …

No money paid for project, says Lim – Nation

 12 spots raided in tunnel probe 

Guan Eng: Project will go on unless there’s a court order to stop

Vertice, Ewein shares down following Penang arrests – Business News

Ewein MD remanded by MACC – theSundaily

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Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) – Tunnel project rocked, Directors arrested in graft probe


 

 

 

Stalled ambition: A view of the Gurney Drive seafront, which is meant to be connected to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai under the Penang undersea tunnel project.
The RM6.3bil undersea tunnel project in Penang is on rocky ground with the MACC going on a day-long swoop on companies and state government agencies involved. A high-ranking Datuk in one of the companies has been detained to help in investigations into allegations of corruption in the long-delayed mega project and feasibility studies.

PETALING JAYA: Graft-busters have arrested a Datuk holding a high post in a company involved in the controversial Penang undersea tunnel project to help investigations into corruption claims.

The arrest came after a day-long massive swoop on several offices in Penang, where the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) seized documents related to the RM6.3bil mega project.

The anti-graft agency raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies – Ewein Zenith Sdn Bhd, 555 Capital Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd’s Penang office.

MACC officers also questioned several officers in charge of the respective agencies and companies since the raids began yesterday morning.

Sources familiar with the investigation said the probe into the undersea tunnel project was also zooming in on land swaps.

Ewein Zenith is a joint-venture vehicle of Ewein Land Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd.

The latter is a Malaysia-China joint venture that was awarded the RM6.3bil mega project to build the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai, a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Consortium Zenith BUCG changed its name to Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd on Jan 18 last year after the withdrawal of Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG).

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the Penang Tunnel special purpose vehicle (SPV) company to pre-sell state land rights worth RM3bil despite a four-year delay in the construction of roads.

Investigators are also believed to be looking into the RM305mil feasibility and detailed design studies that have yet to be completed, even though a payment of RM220mil was made to the SPV.

On Oct 11 last year, the main contractor of the project announced that there was no urgency to finish the feasibility study for the undersea tunnel, as it was only set to begin in 2023.

The feasibility study of the tunnel started in February 2015 and as of October last year, it was said to be 92.9% complete.

Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof has said the delay in submitting the feasibility report to him was very unusual considering that the project was awarded in 2013.

On Friday, Parti Cinta Malaysia (PCM) vice-president Datuk Huan Cheng Guan lodged a report at the MACC headquarters in Putrajaya and handed over documents which he claimed contained new evidence of corruption in the project.

It was Huan’s third report about the matter. He first lodged a police report on July 17 last year, claiming that the project was awarded to an “undercapitalised” company.

He then lodged a report with the MACC on July 21, calling for a corruption probe.

In George Town, a source in the MACC confirmed that they had ­visited the offices of Ewein Zenith, Consor­tium Zenith Construction and 555 Capital, all of which are involved in the Penang undersea tunnel project.

“We went in the morning, shortly after their offices opened,” said the MACC officer.

However, none of the senior management staff were in and only the front office and sales staff were present to attend to them.

State Works Committee chairman Lim Hock Seng said he was not aware of the raids, while Consortium Zenith senior executive director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, state secretary Datuk Seri Farizan Darus said the National Economic Planning Unit on the 25th floor of Komtar was also raided, but declined to give details.

Huan thanked the commission for acting on his report.

“I believe the MACC will carry out its investigation professionally without any fear or favour,” he said.

The MACC is expected to hold a press conference today to explain the spate of raids and provide updates on the investigations.

By royce tan, tan sin chow, r. sekaran, cavina lim The Star

Penang-lang fearing the death of a dialect


Like most Penangites who are proud of their heritage, the writer is troubled that Hokkien isn’t spoken as much as it used to be.

IF there’s one clear feature that separates Penangites from the rest of the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, it is the distinct northern-accented Hokkien.

It doesn’t matter whether we are in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Baru, London or Timbuktu but we can pick up a Penangite whenever we hear this northern style dialect with its rich sprinkling of Malay words that denotes its nyonya-baba linguistic roots.

But each time I return to Penang, I can feel the linguistic changes that are taking place. Whether we realise it or not, Penang Hokkien is slowly disappearing.

Mandarin is quickly taking over this unique Penang Hokkien dialect and for sure, English is also being affected in daily conversations.

Penangites are fiercely proud of their Hokkien as it is entirely different from the one spoken in Singapore, Taiwan or Xiamen in China.

As older Penangites, perhaps we can be a little snooty, as we sometimes dismiss the Hokkien spoken elsewhere as somewhat crass and unrefined.

Only the Hokkien spoken by the Chinese community in Medan closely mirrors that of Penang Hokkien, presumably because of the proximity between Penang and the Indonesian city.

Whether rightly or wrongly, or plainly out of ignorance, Penangites feel the sing-song delivery sounds better.

Words such as balai (police station), balu (just now), bangku (stool), batu (stone), cilaka/celaka (damn it), campur (to mix), jamban (toilet), gatai/gatal (itchy) gili/geli (creepy), sabun (soap) and kesian (pity), are an integral part of the Penang Hokkien dialect.

If the person is not from Penang, then he or she has to be from Kedah, Perlis or Taiping.

Even Penangites of other racial groups can easily speak, or at least understand Hokkien. My fellow moderation advocate, Anas Zubedy, speaks excellent Hokkien. So do my colleagues executive editor Dorairaj Nadason and sports editor R. Manogaran.

But the daily use of the dialect is rapidly being replaced by Mandarin. Go to most coffeeshops today and the hawkers or helpers are likely to tell you the price of food in Mandarin.

I am feeling a little uncomfortable because I am a very parochial and sentimental Penangite. It doesn’t help that I do not speak Mandarin.

Although I am a Cantonese, Hokkien is the spoken language in my family home and the changes that are taking place do have an effect.

Even most of the Penang state government leaders are not from Penang. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was born in Johor and grew up in Melaka.

Senior state exco member Chow Kon Yeow is from Kuala Lumpur but he studied in Universiti Sains Malaysia. Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P. Ramasamy is Sitiawan-born but he spent most of his time in Selangor.

Exceptions are the children of the late Karpal Singh – state exco member Jagdeep Singh Deo and Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh Deo – and other state assemblymen.

The Penang Monthly bulletin, in its May issue, dramatically headlined the situation “Penang Hokkien on life support.”

In an interview with Penang Monthly, the Penang Hokkien Language Association secretary Ooi Kee How was quoted as saying that “people think there’s no benefit in learning or speaking Hokkien, which is not true. Yes, you can survive if you do not speak Hokkien; you can get by with speaking only one language your entire life.”

“But the thing is, something will diminish. Our creativity, our cultural identity, will decline. A lot of innovations will disappear, because different languages shape the way we think differently.”

And what has brought about the decline of the Penang Hokkien? It’s a combination of factors. For one, a whole generation of Penangites have been educated in Chinese schools, at least at the primary level.

This is unlike the older generation of Penangites like me, who are now in the 50s, who attended schools using English as a medium of instruction. In the absence of Mandarin, we spoke mainly Hokkien and English but people in their 30s and 40s find it more comfortable conversing in Mandarin – and for sure, not English.

Then there is this huge impact of Chinese TV shows, especially over Astro. They are entirely in Mandarin, with shows from mainland China and Taiwan, and in Hokkien, which is spoken in a manner more similar to those used in Melaka and Johor.

It is no surprise that the sales staff at malls also expect the Chinese community to speak in Mandarin, and understandably they will begin the conversation in Mandarin – because you are expected to know the language.

There is also the impact of China as the new economic powerhouse of Asia, if not, the world. Mandarin has taken over the dominant spot as a language with economic value, and certainly prestige. That is the reality but it may well be at the expense of a rich heritage.

Catherine Churchman, a lecturer in Asian Studies, in the School of Languages and Cultures in Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, who studied the Taiwanese and Penang Hokkien dialects, reportedly said: “Penangites have become increasingly used to hearing Taiwanese Hokkien, but the Taiwanese are not used to hearing Penang Hokkien.

“Simply replacing Malay loan words with the Taiwanese equivalents does not turn Penang Hokkien into Taiwanese Hokkien either. The grammatical structure of Penang Hokkien is different.”

Fearful of the danger of Penang Hokkien dying, Penang Monthly further quoted Churchman as saying “languages often die the same way, and one of the reasons is simply the existence of a generation gap.”

That melodious Penang Hokkien may not be heard, decades from now, if this frightening trend continues.

On The Beat by 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 shed light on PDC’s huge debts owned to Penang govt


GEORGE TOWN: The state has been told to explain the financial status of Penang Development Corporation (PDC) over its alleged mounting debts.

Datuk Dr Muhamad Farid Saad (BN-Pulau Betong) said PDC received a RM600mil loan last year from Budget 2017, while in Budget 2018 the loan to PDC was approximately RM300mil.

Questioning if the debts indicate that PDC was not on stable financial ground, he asked if PDC would be able to pay back the huge sum to the state.

“Both loans are huge. How is PDC going to pay it all back?

“What has happened to the revenue of PDC in recent years? We would like some answers to the whereabouts of the expenditure on whether the sum was used for investment or loan to a third party.

“Is the PDC today not on stable financial ground until there were some who said that PDC has to take a bank loan to give out salaries,” he said when debating the Supply Bill and Budget 2018 at the state assembly sitting yesterday.

State Opposition Leader Datuk Jahara Hamid (BN-Telok Air Tawar) also raised her concern if PDC “was in the red”, considering that it was among the corporations in the past which had developed Bayan Baru and Seberang Jaya.

“PDC has also contributed to numerous state funds. But now, it is the opposite. PDC is borrowing money from the state government,” she said.

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

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 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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Penang landslides & flooding are natural disasters man-made?


It’s hard to deny when the effects of climate change are all around us

 

Andrew Sheng says that from increasingly intense hurricanes to regional landslides and flooding, it’s clear our actions are effecting the
environment. But, it’s also evident that there are ways for us to avert
disaster and change course

 

AFTER two Category 5 hurricanes (Harvey and Irma) hit the US in October, followed by Maria hitting Puerto Rico, no one can deny that natural disasters are devastating.

With three hurricanes costing an estimated US$385bil, with less than half insured, the poor are suffering the most because they cannot afford to rebuild as the rich.

This year alone, monsoon floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal have left millions homeless. This year will therefore break all records as Munich Re-insurance data suggests that 2016 natural disaster losses were only US$175bil, already 28.6% higher than the 30 years (1986-2015) annual average of US$126bil.

But how much of these natural disasters are man-made?

Despite US President Trump being sceptical of climate change, the US Global Change Research Program Climate Science Report published this month concludes that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”.

Carbon dioxide concentration already exceed 400 parts per million, last occurred about 3 million years ago, when both global average temperature and sea level were significantly higher than today. Roughly one third of carbon emission is due to residential heating/cooling, one third for transport and one third for industrial production.

Human activities on Mother Earth include over-consumption of natural resources, cutting down forests, polluting waters and excessive cultivation/development that caused desertification or soil erosion. You see this from warmer surface and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; diminishing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea levels; ocean acidification; and declining tree and fish stock.

Oceans warming up

Hurricanes are caused by oceans warming up, building energy and vapour levels that create freak typhoons, tornados and massive downpours. At the same time, droughts are also occurring with more frequency for longer.

Scientists estimate that global average sea level has risen by about 7-8 inches since 1900, with almost half that rise occurring since 1993. Everyday, we hear new extreme events, such as unusually heavy rainfall, heatwaves, large forest fires, floods or landslides.

Climate warming is most observable in the water-stressed Middle East and the North Africa/Sahel region, where rapid population growth created desertification, food shortages, civil conflicts and ultimately, outward migration towards cooler climates, especially Europe. This hot region accounts for 60% of global war casualties since 2000, with 10 million outward refugees. About 90% of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers come from four regions with half under the age of 18 years.

A 2016 World Bank report estimated that these water-stressed countries’ GDP could be reduced by up to 6%, with dire consequences on stability. Without water, industries cannot function, food cannot be cultivated and health can deteriorate due to disease from water-shortage and drought.

European estimates suggest that each refugee costs roughly US$11,600 per person to maintain and there are already one million trying to enter Europe last year. The OECD has classified countries such as Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen as extreme fragile.

Critical point

The world is already reaching a critical turning point. If the Paris Climate Accord can be implemented, with or without the United States, there is some chance of averting further global warming.

But closer home, we are already witnessing the effects of climate change on our daily lives.

In 1972, Hong Kong experienced a devastating landslide near Po Shan Road in Mid-Levels, which caused 67 deaths and collapse of two buildings. One cause was unstable ground following heavy rainfall from Typhoon Rose eleven months prior to the incident.

This tragedy in densely populated Hong Kong resulted in rigorous slope protection and inspection of drains to ensure that these slips do not occur again. I lived near Po Shan Road and admired how Hong Kong engineers regularly inspected the slope protection measures and that the drains were always clear.

In 1993, the collapse of Highland Towers in Kuala Lumpur was partly attributed to the clearing of the hilltop above Highland Towers, which led to soil erosion and the weakening of the foundations. By the time the residents detected cracks in the buildings, it was already too late. Some of my personal friends were among the 48 persons who were killed in that collapse.

Last weekend, Penang (where I live) had the worst rainstorm and floods because we were hit by the tail end of strong winds from Typhoon Damrey, one of the strongest to hit Vietnam in 16 years, leaving 61 people dead. Driving along Penang Bridge, I can see that the continued hilltop developments in Penang are leaving soiled scars on the previously pristine landscape, I am reminded of Highland Towers and Po Shan incidents. Natural disasters are acts of god, but the size of their impact on human lives are completely within our control.

Soil erosion

Soil erosion does not happen overnight, and require responsible developers and conscientious governments, as well as concerned citizens, to be continually vigilant that maintenance of roads and drains, including soil inspections, are serious business with serious consequences.

Modern technology can provide drones and inbuilt sensors that can detect whether erosion is reaching critical levels. Regular maintenance of drains and checks on stability of the soil, especially where there has been recent clearing of trees in steep slopes, will forewarn us all of impending accidents.

As cities are building more and more on hillsides subject to torrential rain, Penang should seek technical expertise from Hong Kong which has extensive expertise on the maintenance of steep hill slopes that are subject to typhoons and sudden rainfall.

Landslides are today used more in political terms than in real terms. The next time landslides happen, residents who watch daily the erosion of their natural environment will know who is really looking after their interests.

Andrew Sheng  By Andrew Sheng

 

Related links:

No hill land approvals since 2008?

by penangforum

Former MBPP councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui wrote this piece for the press in his
personal capacity: I wish to comment on the press statement by Jagdeep
Singh Deo as reported in Berita Daily and many other newspapers on 24
October.

PKR rep cries for a stop to hillside development – Nation

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Hills, landslides, floods and damaged houses: What to do?


Hills, landslides and floods: What to do?

 The mega floods in Penang which followed the landslide tragedy, flash floods in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, and a shrinking water catchment area in Ulu Muda … it’s time our leaders paid attention to the environment.

THE news has been full of the related issues of hill cutting, logging, landslides and floods. The environmental crisis is back in the public consciousness, and we should seize the moment to find solutions and act on them.

Penang has been the epicentre of this upsurge, for good reasons: the mega flash floods and landslides over the weekend and on Sept 15, and the Oct 21 hill slope collapse in Lembah Permai (Tanjung Bungah) which killed 11 employees at a construction site.

Saturday’s overwhelming floods in Penang, which paralysed the island in so many ways and affected lives, property and activities, was a megashock not only to people in the state but throughout the nation.

But it’s not just a Penang phenomenon.

On Oct 30, flash floods caused massive traffic jams in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.

Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said the floods were caused not only by heavy rain but by developers of two projects that had blocked drainage.

A stop­work order will be issued if the developers do not take measures specified by City Hall.

Another threat is the logging of valuable water catchment areas.

The Ulu Muda forest in Kedah, which provides much of the water supply to Kedah, Penang and Perlis, is under such a threat as the originally designated Ulu Muda water catchment area has shrunk by 87% from 98,400ha in 1969 to 12,484ha in 2017.

The forest reserve was the most important water catchment area in the Northern Corridor Economic Region but timber production there was growing because Kedah depended on logging as a source of income, said Penang Water Supply Corporation CEO Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa ( The Star, Oct 27).

He suggested that the federal government compensate Kedah for gazetting and preserving Ulu Muda as a water catchment area, noting that the Muda Dam provided 80% of the daily raw water needs for Kedah.

Jaseni issued this stark warning: when logging affects the Muda Dam’s ability to store sufficient water, all three states would face a water crisis in the next dry season.

In Penang, the debate on the floods and the tragic landslide has continued non­stop and moved last week to the State Assembly.

The clearest explanation of the worsening flood situation that I have heard was the presentation by scientist Dr Kam Suan Pheng at the Penang Forum event on Oct 29.

 

A former Universiti Sains Malaysia academic who then worked in international agencies including the International Rice Research Institute, Dr Kam said there were seven main causes of floods in Penang:

  • > Increasingly heavy rainfall; 
  • > Expansion of impermeable surface area;
  • > Eroded soil and landslides increase the sediment load in surface runoffs;
  • > Debris that clogs up waterways; 
  • > Accumulation of surface flow downstream;
  • > Limited capacity to channel off discharge; and
  • > High tides slow down discharge to the sea.

She provided historical and current data to show that flash floods are happening more frequently and with more adverse effects, even with lower rainfall levels. With higher rainfall expected in future, the situation can be expected to significantly worsen.

Dr Kam focused on expansion of impermeable surface area (caused by ill­ planned development and replacing natural ground cover such as hills, fields and trees that act as a water ­absorbing sponge) and soil erosion and landslides (caused by cutting and development in hill areas) as two factors that need special attention.

She quoted Datuk Kam U Tee, the Penang Water Authority general manager (1973~­90), as having correctly explained the Penang floods of October 2008, as follows: the floods were caused by conversion of the Paya Terubong and Bayan Baru valleys into “concrete aprons that do not retain water. The water immediately flows into streams causing flash floods even with moderate rainfall. Because of hill­cutting activities, the flowing water causes erosion of the slopes which carries mud and silt into the river beds”. ( The Star, Oct 24, 2008).

Flood mitigation and flood prevention are two types of actions to tackle the flood problem, said Dr Kam.

Mitigation measures only tackle the symptoms, are costly and need public (state and federal) funds. These include structural measures (upgrading rivers, installing pumps) and non­structural measures (drainage masterplan; flood forecasting and warning systems; public education).

 

Flood prevention should be the priority as that would tackle the root causes, said Dr Kam, who proposed the following actions:

  • > Proper land-­use planning and development control;
  • > Environmental, drainage, transportation and social impact assessments should be made   regarding development plans, beyond individual development projects;
  • > Stringent protection of hill land and slopes;
  • > Stringent monitoring of development projects;
  • >More greening of urban spaces, including a system of parks; and
  • >Protection of riverbanks.

To take these measures, policymakers have to deploy a wide range of policy and legal instruments, and to adopt environmentally sensitive and ecologically friendly structural and non­structural solutions, concluded Dr Kam.

Another speaker, Datuk Agatha Foo, complemented Dr Kam nicely when she elaborated on the various laws, guidelines and plans that can be used to prevent the wrong kinds of development, to control and monitor approved developments and to strictly enforce the laws.

She also spoke on the loopholes and weaknesses of the laws and how to correct them.

Events of the past few weeks alone indicate that the number of environment ­related and human-made problems are bound to increase, probably many times, unless our leaders and policymakers give higher priority to the environment and to well­ planned development.

The paradigm shift should start now, as the alarm bells have already rung.


Source: The Star Malaysia
director@southcentre.org Martin Khor Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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