Silicon Valley faces tech backlash: maybe needs to be taken down to size


Polarising content and Russian manipulation of social media are fuelling calls for greater regulation of firms like Google and FB. — 123rf.com

 

Demonstrators at a rally in opposition to white supremacists and the postponed right-wing “March on Google” protest of James Damore’s firing that was originally planned the same day. — Bay Area News Group/TNS

Once a darling, tech hub Silicon Valley is under attack for its technologies which are damaging our lives.

ONCE upon a time, there was a beautiful land filled with bright minds and gleaming prospects.

People called it Silicon Valley, and out of it flowed knowledge, ideas and innovations that gave us almost-unthinkable powers to learn, to communicate, to transform our lives into exactly what we wanted them to be. The region’s denizens toiled happily at the cutting edge, and day by day, they were making the world a better place.

But today, this beautiful land is under attack from within and without. The products and services it sends out into the world are being called addictive, divisive and even damaging, raising the cry that instead of making the world better, they are making it worse.

As technology plays a deeper and more pervasive role in nearly every aspect of our lives, the industry that has upended everything from shopping and travel to education and human relationships is facing a backlash the likes of which Silicon Valley has never seen.

Polarising online content and Russian manipulation of social media platforms have fuelled calls from the right and the left for greater regulation of firms like Google, Facebook and Twitter. World wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, Republican US Senator John McCain, leftist billionaire George Soros, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson have all joined the chorus demanding the government take action.


Terrific or terrible?

Critics argue that the big tech firms have become too economically dominant, intruded too far into our lives and have too much control over what gets seen and shared online. At the same time, critics contend, those same companies have failed to take responsibility for the misuse of their services by malevolent actors, for the spread of fake news and for the way their platforms and algorithms can be gamed.

Stanford computer science students are protesting Apple, demanding it make less addictive devices.

The #MeToo movement has amplified a debate over sexual harassment and diversity in Silicon Valley. And conservatives have attacked the whole region as a liberal echo chamber that stifles precisely the open debate it claims to embrace.

Thus the backlash.

“What makes it categorically different now is that this is the first time I have seen that people are saying, ‘Hmmm, maybe Silicon Valley needs to be taken down to size,’ said Leslie Berlin, project historian for Stanford University’s Silicon Valley Archives. “This notion that what Silicon Valley represents actually threatens rather than embodies what makes the country great, that is new.”

Berners-Lee in an open letter recently called the tech giants “a new set of gatekeepers” whose platforms can be “weaponised” to widen social rifts and interfere in elections. Benioff told CNBC in January that social media was “addictive” and should be regulated like cigarettes.

Carlson wants Google treated like a public utility because it “shuts down free speech for political reasons”.

Former president Barack Obama, at a February conference at MIT, said social media was Balkanizing public discourse, creating “entirely different realities” that contribute to “gridlock and venom and polarisation in politics”.

Even Facebook has jumped in with an unusual mea culpa, issuing a news release in February admitting it was “far too slow to recognise how bad actors were abusing our platform”.

Raking in the money

Despite its critics, Silicon Valley remains hugely successful and influential, with 21% of employed people working in tech, according to a 2017 Federal Reserve Bank report. Though the region’s economy has shown some signs of slowing, job growth in Silicon Valley has been more than double the national rate since the beginning of the economic recovery in 2010.

And the region remains home to the two most valuable public companies in the world, Apple and Google’s parent firm Alphabet, as well as world-class universities. Every day, people around the world benefit from Silicon Valley-built tools that have transformed communication, opened access to information, and made life easier.

The notion that Silicon Valley’s best days are over is far from new – people have been predicting its demise ever since the advent of the microprocessor, said Berlin.

“It was going to be the oil shocks of the 1970s that were going to take it down, and then competition from Japan, India and China, the Dot Com bust, Y2K – it’s just been one thing after another, the 2008 crash,” Berlin said. “Time and again, Silicon Valley has bounced back from these perceived threats. Silicon Valley has always been sort of the golden child of the Golden State.”

But this time, Berlin and others see something shifting.

“It is unprecedented,” UC Berkeley Haas School of Business professor Abhishek Nagaraj, said of the backlash. “I think this is because of how deeply penetrated tech is in people’s lives.”

Nagaraj, who studies the tech industry, compared the demonisation of Silicon Valley to the outcry against Wall Street after deceptive investment banking practices knocked the United States into the Great Recession.

“It appears as if, basically, tech is the new finance,” Nagaraj said.

Overwhelming force

Increasingly, the public views the tech industry as a force against which they are powerless, said San Jose State University anthropology professor Jan English-Lueck, who researches Silicon Valley’s culture.

“It’s now on people’s radar screen to be a place of the elite, where they’re changing the world in a way that ordinary people don’t have an influence on that change,” EnglishLueck said.

While the devices and social media platforms created by hugely successful Silicon Valley tech firms have given us new ways to connect, they’ve also thrown the worst of human nature into our faces, said English-Lueck.

“You don’t have to look in somebody’s eyes when you’re telling someone something ugly,” English-Lueck said. “That’s really exaggerated people’s ability to hate.”

She believes the optimistic view of technology as the great liberator and connector helped keep major tech firms from building more safeguards into their platforms to prevent vicious online attacks, dissemination of fake news and nation-state intrusions.

“Do we want free speech and free action that’s amplified by the Internet?” she said. “Sometimes we don’t want that.”

Stephen Milligan, CEO of pioneering San Jose data-storage firm Western Digital, doesn’t think technology can solve everything.

But Milligan doesn’t buy the notion that Silicon Valley has lost its bloom. The region’s companies are still trying to solve “real problems” in the world and having a positive impact on people’s lives.

“It’s still cool,” Milligan said. “I actually think it’s more cool.”

Silicon Valley boosters such as Peggy Burke, CEO of Palo Alto branding agency 1185, will tell you the technology industry can fix the problems it creates.

“You have to weigh the good and the bad, and if the bad gets so bad that it outweighs the good, someone will solve for that,” Burke said. “If there’s a problem – traffic, transportation, housing, stopping Russians, fake news – someone in the Valley right now is working on solving for that problem. I’ve been in the Valley for 30 years and I’ve seen it happen over and over.”

A reckoning for the region is likely, but it won’t be a fatal one, Berkeley’s Nagaraj said. The problems arising from technology will exacerbate the ongoing decentralisation of innovation, as boot camps bring entrepreneurial skills to new regions, and clusters of expertise – in “deep learning” artificial intelligence in Toronto, for example – lead to cooperative projects linking the Valley to other areas, he said.

“It’s going to be a much more collaborative process than one of replacement,” he said. “We are moving to a world where not all the big hits come from Silicon Valley.”

Source: By Ethan Baron – The San Jose Mercury News/Tribune News Service

 

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Telling fact from fiction, fake news


Easy target: Fake news is a big problem here because many of us are too impressionable when it comes to news on the Internet.

HARDLY a day passes without someone sharing a video with me. No one bothers to check, not for a minute, if this could be nothing more than a fake video gone viral. Yet, amazingly, they are quick to forward such things to me.

And that doesn’t even include the unsolicited political messages, through which senders expect their receivers to echo their political enthusiasm.

More alarmingly, residents chat groups on uncollected rubbish or poor maintenance, suddenly see political messages popping up in them. Even prayer and old classmates chat groups aren’t spared, my goodness.

Blame it on what is often dubbed “silly season”, leading up to the general election, but don’t test our patience by diverting our attention to something trivial. It is downright irritating and insulting. And who cares about these politicians, anyway? Not everything in life is about politics, after all.

On Friday, a video went viral on what looked like a gun fight between the police and a notorious gang in Kuala Lumpur.

Some truth-seekers took the trouble to check with the media, but most would have despatched it to their friends in no time at all.

As trained journalists, we obviously scrutinised the video to look for give-aways. It doesn’t take a detective to pick out the holes, but then, there are many gullible Malaysians.

For one, the tiny yellow taxis in the video don’t exist in KL. There is no such building with that staircase structure in the capital, either, and there was a camera crew in plain view running around filming the action scenes, clearly indicating a movie set.

Most of the cars in the video aren’t even models we regularly see in Malaysia, and there was also a guy who ran by wearing what appeared to be heavy clothing.

On Thursday night, it got even sillier.Leaping out of the world wide web was a video of what’s been made to look like a Malaysian student being bullied in a classroom.

The comments by some racist airheads really infuriated me. With the victim appearing Chinese, the bully possibly Malay – he looked Indian to me – it became fertile ground to sow the seeds of hate.

At no point did it occur to them that this video could have come from Singapore. It didn’t even cross their minds that Malaysian students no longer wear uniforms entirely in white. The last time students were decked completely in white was probably in 1979 – during my time as a student. And desks and chairs in green? In our schools?

The Education Ministry has come out to confirm that the incident in that widely-shared video happened in Singapore on Feb 9.

Describing the footage as a “severe case of bullying”, Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan urged netizens to stop spreading the clip.

“This happened at Westwood Secondary School in Singapore. Please don’t spread this video and claim that it happened in Malaysia.

“Before forwarding anything, it would be wise to authenticate its veracity to avoid confusion and misinformation,” he added.

A group of students from Westwood Secondary School were filmed punching, kicking and throwing chairs at a classmate in a video that then went viral, reported Singapore’s The Straits Times on Feb 18.

In the video posted on Facebook page Fabrications About Singapore on Feb 15, a student can be heard egging his friends on to “teach” one of their classmates a lesson.

Two students were captured throwing chairs at a boy seated at his table in a classroom while on his mobile phone. The boy is stunned when a chair hits his head.

A student then slaps the boy, before throwing a series of punches and kicks at him.

Then, the student overturns the boy’s chair, shoves him to the floor and continues to pummel him.

Then, there was the fake sex video, which purportedly featured national badminton hero Datuk Lee Chong Wei as a “movie star”.

I meet my fellow Penangite regularly, and I can safely say that I have observed him up close and personal.

I can tell that Lee is much more muscular than that skinny, presumably, porno actor in the video, and the hairstyle doesn’t even match our sports idol’s.

Lee has done right by making a police report, and let’s hope the police, with the help of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, swiftly track down the culprits of this vicious smear campaign.

It’s obvious that some people not only want to discredit the three-time Olympic silver medallist but are looking for maximum mayhem by aligning their dubious act to coincide with the release of his feature length biopic Lee Chong Wei: Rise of the Legend next month.

And that’s far from the end of the tall tales. There’s also this pathetic fake news about rejected Musang King durians from China – timed to perfection to be “reported” right before the International Durian festival in Bentong.

The Internet burned with a doctored picture depicting a mountain of the “rejected” fruits, which were said to have been exposed to extremely high levels of insecticide.

Those who shared that piece of poor journalism – either because they were sincerely concerned, genuinely ignorant or politically motivated – didn’t know, or cared to find out that Malaysia doesn’t export durians in its original fruit form but rather, as frozen pulp in packages.

And for sure, the Chinese wouldn’t have wanted to bear the freight charge to return these bad durians to Malaysia. The life span of our durian is only a day or two. How could it have been stacked up like that in the picture?

Durian lovers who inspected the picture could tell they were not Musang King, but instead, something of Thai origin.

With the general election looming, the recycled rumours of Bangladeshi phantom voters arriving by the planeloads at KLIA2 have resurfaced. Even an opposition state assemblyman, in her Chinese New Year video criticising the #UndiRosak activists, cheekily added that “even the Bangladeshis want to vote.” Can you picture 40,000 of them milling at our airport?

Although not a shred of evidence has come to light to back up the incredulous claim, the myth continues to be perpetuated, and it’s a given it will be rinsed and repeated. Perhaps it’ll be the Nepalese or Rohingya this time?

While the ordinary Malaysian can be forgiven for being easily swayed, it’s an entirely different story when journalists find themselves duped, or God forbid, spreading the “news”.

In the 2013 general election, a prominent TV presenter posted on his Facebook page claiming a blackout occurred at the Bentong counting centre, which led to the Barisan Nasional winning the parliamentary seat, slyly implying the coalition cheated during the result tabulation.

He got his network into hot water when he returned to his FB profile to say, “when my child is born, I will ask him to write an essay with the title ‘The Blackout Night’. The beginning of the essay would be on May 5, 2013, there was a stiff fight in the Bentong seat. Someone had said that he would cut his ears if it is lost, and then the counting process started, blackout …”

To credit MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai’s opponent, DAP challenger Wong Tack denied the rumours. But let’s hope this presenter has since matured, and perhaps, become more cynical as a journalist or presenter, at least.

The most frequent fake news that sparks to life every few weeks would be the dates of the Parliament’s dissolution and polling.

Interestingly, in the case of the polling date “report”, it involved the Prime Minister having an audience with the King, accompanied by the Deputy Prime Minister and Speaker.

It’s all very simple, really – the PM doesn’t need anyone tagging along, and after meeting the King, he surely can’t be fixing a date since that job belongs to the Election Commission.

A news portal reported that fake news is a big problem here because many of us are too impressionable when it comes to news on the Internet.

The Asian Correspondent reported: “Without questioning the veracity of certain claims and announcements, it seems that oftentimes, anything resembling a news story – whether shared on social media or via mobile messaging apps – is swallowed wholesale.

“Let’s look at how WhatsApp has become a popular platform to spread news. How many of you have received forwarded messages that clearly resemble fake news and could have easily been dismissed as such? I’m sure so many have, and speaking from experience, it definitely gets frustrating.

“The worst part is that when you question the person who unwittingly forwarded the news, he or she would say, ‘I don’t know if it’s true or not. I received it from someone else, so, I’m just forwarding.’”

This has happened continually because no one is punished for their unscrupulous and reckless deeds, even if their actions lead to undesirable consequences amounting to racial tension, riots and even death.

And the campaigning hasn’t even begun! So, let’s put on our thinking caps and brace for the inevitable soon – a deluge of fake news.

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 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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Penang landslide tragedy, why it happened?


Speaking out: Penang Forum members protesting outside the CAP office in George Town.

Don’t just make it about worker safety issues

 

GEORGE TOWN: A Penang Forum member is worried that the state’s proposed inquiry into the Tanjung Bungah landslide will only focus on worker safety issues.

Meenakshi Raman, who is also Tanjung Bungah Residents Associa­tion chairman, said the inquiry should instead look at the laws that have not been followed and whether or not the Penang Structure Plan (PSP) was neglected.

“It should also look at whether the Penang Island City Council (MBPP), which has the authority to act, failed to properly do its job.

“We hope the commission will broaden its scope of inquiry,” she told press conference at the Consu­mers Association of Penang (CAP) office yesterday.

Penang Forum is a loose coalition of several civil society groups in the state.

The coalition, which includes Sahabat Alam Malaysia, CAP, Malay­sian Nature Society, Women’s Centre for Change, Penang Heritage Trust, Friends of Botanical Gardens, and 25 residents’ associations and management committees, urged the state to halt all hillslope projects immediately.

It also wants the state to amend the 2009 guidelines on “special projects” to explicitly prohibit development on hill lands except for essential public services.

Forum member Dr Lim Mah Hui said the Penang Hills Watch citizens’ initiative provided the state government with information on hill cutting it collected from the public.

“In January, this site was the first case we highlighted to the state government.

“Photos of construction and hill cutting there were presented to the state government. It responded that the ‘earthwork is being monitored’,” he said.

Dr Lim said Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng wrote in the Safety Guidelines for Hillside Development in 2012 that local governments were to strengthen their geotechnical units, which process and approve applications for hillside developments, and follow up with strict enforcement.

“It says a monitoring team will be established to ensure compliance in construction and performance (of projects).

“The question is what happened then? Did the state and local governments follow their own guidelines? Or was there gross negligence?

“Such a tragedy could have been avoided,” Dr Lim claimed.

He also said parties like the State Planning Committee, MBPP’s One-Stop-Centre Committee (which approved the project), the engineers, the developer and contractors should be investigated.

CAP vice-president Mohideen Abdul Kader said Penangites’ concerns over hill development dated back some three decades.

“Remember the proposed Penang Hill development which we managed to cancel in the end? What the state must do now is look after the natural resources and listen to the NGOs.

“Public pressure can make a difference,” he said.

Another forum member, Dr Kam Suan Pheng, said the Penang Structure Plan forbade development on hill land 76m (250ft) above sea level or with a gradient of 25° and above.

“But many developers cut hillslopes, making them steeper and less stable.

“The weather is always blamed but there was no rain for the past week. So how did the landslide happen?” she asked.

Dr Kam said the Safety Guidelines for Hillside Development clearly state that “if you have a slope … depending on the height of the slope, you need to have a buffer zone that is greater than the height of the slope.”

“From the media reports, the height of the affected slope is 10m, so there should be a buffer zone of 10m from the foothill,” she said, adding that the inquiry should explore this aspect.

Penang Citizens Awareness Chant Group adviser Yan Lee urged the developer to conduct studies on improving on-site safety measures and engage foreign consultants to make sure the project can go on safely.

“They should also make sure the deceased workers’ families are taken care of.”

 

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Penang government urged to halt all hillslope project

 

Penang landslide tragedy, plea went unheeded, no one listened !


Suspicious activity: A photo taken from Penang
social activist Anil Netto’s blog showing an active stone quarry about
500m directly behind the site of the landslide.

GEORGE TOWN: As the landslide tragedy takes its toll with three workers killed and 11 others feared dead, DAP state assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu said there are still 10 other development projects pending, but his plea to save the hills has been constantly ignored.

Some of the projects will be near hillsides and more are planned along the coastline. A few are projected to be 50 to 60 storeys high, said the Tanjung Bungah assemblyman.

“I objected to each one. I always use the words Saya membantah sekeras-kerasnya (I strongly object) and some city councillors laughed at me and said the approval authority ‘menyokong sepenuh-penuhya’ (fully supports).

“Now see what has happened,” Teh told The Star.

He was referring to the one-stop centre at the Penang Island City Council (MBPP), which is in charge of approving property development plans on the island.

Teh, who rushed to the scene of the landslide shortly after it happened at about 8.30am yesterday, did not hide his discontent over the spurt of development projects in his constituency.

“Not all those development applications have been approved yet.

“But after the general election, I expect a mushrooming of approvals,” he added.

Tanjung Bungah is one of the few residential areas on the island with a low population density.

The Lembah Permai area, locally called Hillside or Vale of Tempe, is a coveted location for its semi-detached, terraced and bungalow homes.

But in recent years, developers have been submitting plans for high-rises that rival even the height of Komtar, in the area’s unoccupied hills and seaside.

Yesterday’s landslide happened at a construction site near Lorong Lembah Permai 3.

Tens of thousands of tonnes of laterite earth slipped down from a height of about 35m, burying the workers.

Firemen told reporters that the search operation had to be carried out slowly because the slope was unstable.

Teh said he objected to the project’s planning permission about two years ago because the original hill slope had a steepness of 30 to 40 degrees.

“I apologise to my voters in Tanjung Bungah. I objected to the construction, but my words were only taken as a personal view by the MBPP and state government.

“I also apologise to the family members of the victims buried by the landslide,” he said.

Asked about a stone quarry located some 500m further uphill from where the landslide occurred, Teh said that it was active, with rock blasting going on two to three times a week.

“I am against that too, but it was allowed to continue,” he added.

Source: The Star


Another call to stop all hill-slope development immediately


Why must it take a tragedy to happen in Penang before the Penang state and local governments wake up to the dangers of rampant and unsustainable development especially on hill slopes? Or will they wake up?

Two years ago, in December 2015, the Penang Forum, alarmed by such negative developments, organised a half-day event titled “Save Our Hills” in which engineering, planning and legal experts gave presentations on the dangers of hill-slope development. (The presentations are available on Penang Forum’s website.)

It then called on the government to review and stop further hill-slope projects. Very sadly, the call fell on deaf ears and the consequences are painfully evident today after an estimate of perhaps 15 lives are lost in a landslide at a hill-slope project in Tanjung Bungah.

Penang Forum then started Penang Hills Watch (PHW), a citizens’ initiative to provide the state government, information on hill cuttings that it collects from the public. In January 2017, the PHW met with the state government; the present site where this tragedy happened was the first case that PHW highlighted to the state government. (Please visit the PHW website.) Photos of construction and hill cutting on this site were presented to the state government – to which it responded that the “earthwork is being monitored.”

The chief minister of Penang, in the Safety Guidelines for Hillside Development, said: “Penang Local Governments (MPPP and MPSP) are to strengthen their Geotechnical unit, which processes and approves applications for hill site developments, followed by strict enforcement. A monitoring team will be established to ensure compliance in construction and monitoring performance of slopes.”

The question is what happened then? Did the state and local governments follow through their own guidelines? Or was there gross negligence?

Such senseless tragedy could have been avoided. Penang Forum calls for an independent Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate what went wrong and how such incidents can be avoided in the future. All parties beginning from the State Planning Committee that gave approval for all hill-slope projects, to the One-Stop-Committee of the Penang Island City Council that also approved the project, to the engineers who are supposed to monitor the projects, to the developers and contractors who carried out the project should be investigated and held responsible.

In the meantime, Penang Forum once again calls on the authorities to:

    • stop all hill-slope projects with immediate effect;
    • immediately amend the 2009 guidelines on ‘special projects’ to explicitly prohibit all development on hill lands, except if it is for essential public services;
    • rehabilitate all existing exposed and barren slopes and spaces to prevent further soil erosion;
    • undertake stern enforcement, effective and deterrent punishment on those who clear land illegally or do not abide by conditions imposed to prevent soil-erosion;
    • monitor frequently and effectively all hill slopes by the local authorities;
  • publicly declare and give warning on all hill slopes and areas that are not safe.



Sources: Penang Forum 

Sahabat Alam Malaysia

Consumers Association of Penang 

Residents associations and management committees of Penang

Consumers & Residents tell state govt, ‘We told you so’

GEORGE TOWN: The Tanjung Bungah Residents’ Association (TBRA) is demanding for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on all hill slope developments in Penang, following a landslide at a construction site this morning that buried nearly 18 people.

TBRA chair Meenakshi Raman said the RCI would be a form of audit on all risky hill slope projects in the state, to prevent any tragedies from happening again.

She also said the TBRA had repeatedly appealed to the Penang government to put an end to hill slope developments as it would have a domino effect on flash floods in the state.

“We were called ‘irrational’ by the Penang government when we appealed for hill slope developments to stop. Who’s irrational now?

“Today’s incident is a grave and grim warning to the authorities to take heed of Mother Nature’s warning,” Meenakshi said when contacted today.

In the 8.50am incident, a 10m-high hill slope came crashing down next to a construction site not far from the Tunku Abdul Rahman College in Tanjung Bungah.

At the time of writing, two survivors were rescued, while two more bodies were retrieved from the mud and rubble. Although their identities are not yet known, they are believed to be foreign workers.

Meenakshi said during last month’s flash floods, TBRA and other residents’ associations made a collective appeal to the state government to end all excess developments and hill clearing in the state.

TBRA, concerned groups, and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) had also previously called on the Penang government to amend existing guidelines concerning hill slopes.

Meanwhile, SAM president S M Mohamed Idris said the NGO had written to the Penang government “several times” urging them to stop hillside developments.

“We have warned that hill slopes are fragile ecosystems and cannot be touched.

“And now, we are really shocked that the lives of many have been sacrificed. We support TBRA’s call for an urgent RCI,” he said when contacted.

Source: Free Malaysia Today

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Too good to be true? Think twice


 

HAVE you ever grabbed an offer without any hesitation, simply because the price is too cheap to resist?

Many of us have this experience especially during sales or promotional campaigns. We tend to spend more at the end or buy things which we are uncertain of their quality when the deal seems too good to say no.

It may be harmless if the amount involved is insignificant. However, when we apply the same approach to big ticket items, it can cause vast implications.

Recently, I heard a case which reinforces this belief.

A friend shared that a property project which was selling for RM300,000 a few years ago is now stuck. Although the whole project was sold out, the developer has problem delivering the units on time.

The developer is calling all purchasers to renegotiate the liquidated and ascertained damages (LAD), a compensation for late delivery.

One of the homeowners said he is owed RM50,000 of LAD, which means the project is 1½ years late. When we chatted, we found that he purchased the unit solely due to its cheap pricing without doing much research in the first place.

The incident is a real-life example of paying too low for an item which can leave us as losers, especially when it involves huge sum of investment, such as property.

To many, buying a house maybe a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a decision made can make or break the happiness of a family.

A good decision ensures a roof over the head and a great living environment, while an imprudent move may incur long-term financial woes if the house is left uncompleted.

Nowadays, it is common to see people do research when they plan to buy a phone, household item, or other smaller ticket items.

Looking at the amount involved and implication of buying a house, we should apply the same discretion if not more.

It is always important for house buyers to study the background of a developer and project, consult experienced homeowners regarding the good and bad of a project before committing.

I have seen many people buy a house merely based on price consideration.

In fact, there are more to be deliberated when we commit for a roof over our heads. The location, project type, reputation of a developer, the workmanship, the future maintenance of the property etc, are all important factors for a good decision as they would affect the future value of a project.

Beware when a discount or a rebate sounds too good to be true, it may be just too good to be true and never materialised. If the collection or revenue of a housing project is not sufficient to fund the building cost, the developer may not be able to complete the project or deliver the house as per promised terms. At the end of the day, the “price” paid by homeowners would be far more expensive.

In general, the same principle applies elsewhere. It is a known fact that when we pay a premium for a quality product from a reliable producer, we have a peace of mind that the product could last longer and end up saving us money. Some lucky ones will end up gaining much more.

For instance, when we purchase a car, we should consider its resale value as some cars hold up well, while others collapse after a short period. Other determining factors include the specifications of the car, the after sales service, and the availability of spare parts.

Quality products always come with a higher price tag due to the research, effort, materials and services involved.

In addition to buying a house or big ticket items, other incidents that can tantamount to losing huge sums are like money games, get-rich-quick scheme, or the purchase of stolen cars or houses with caveats.

When an offer or a rebate sounds dodgy, the “good deal” can be a scam.

Years of experience tells me that when what is too good to be true, we should think twice. I always remind myself with a quote from John Ruskin (1819-1900) who was an art critic, an artist, an architect and a philosopher. “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.

“The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

Food for thought by Alan Tong

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was the world president of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.

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