Penang NGOs demand MBPP step up, freeze building on slopes after fatal wall collapse

Fire and Rescue Department personnel search for victims of a landslide in Tanjung Bungah, George Town June 25, 2019. — Picture courtesy of the Penang police
Fire and Rescue Department personnel search for victims of a landslide in Tanjung Bungah, George Town June 25, 2019. — Picture courtesy of the Penang police

GEORGE TOWN, June 28 — Penang Forum and Penang Hills Watch (PHW) today called for a moratorium on all slope development and highway projects over hills following the fatal retaining wall collapse three days ago.

In a joint statement, the two groups said the moratorium should be imposed to allow the state to conduct a comprehensive check on all hill slopes, take remedial actions and conduct hill slope rehabilitations.

“It bears reiteration that this latest incident exposes the dangers of development on slopes, especially when cut, and regardless whether legal or illegal,” they said.

The groups also called on the state government to review its policies, guidelines and standard operating procedures in relation to hillside development.

They said the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) cannot be absolved from its responsibility just because the illegal works were conducted in an obscured location.

“There is a need for more comprehensive monitoring and enforcement, especially in identifying such cases of illegal construction on slopes,” they said.

They said the council missed this illegal works due to its obscure location which raised the question of how many other illegal construction works on slopes around the state that the MBPP had missed.

“Does the MBPP have sufficient monitoring and enforcement capacity to detect these cases and act on them?” they asked.

Penang Forum and PHW said there needs to be tougher laws and penalties to punish errant land owners who flout the law so that such incidents are never repeated.

They said it is important that the state made it clear to all landowners on their responsibilities as “slope owners” and that they need to go through the right channels when there were cases of erosion and slope instability within their premises.

“This latest landslide incident again highlights the need for more public awareness about slope safety and the need for landowners to know their responsibilities in maintaining slopes as well as alerting the authorities when tell-tale signs of slope instability and erosion appear,” they said.

General view of the cordoned-off site at Lost Paradise Resort along Jalan Tanjung Bungah June 26, 2019. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
General view of the cordoned-off site at Lost Paradise Resort along Jalan Tanjung Bungah June 26, 2019. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

The groups pointed out that this is the third deadly incident on Penang island within a span of two years.

They said a total of 24 lives have been lost in these three incidents.

“These tragedies highlight the fragility of slopes in Penang, and the extreme caution that needs to be taken when dealing with them,” they said.

On Tuesday night, four Myanmar workers were killed when the retaining wall they were building collapsed.

MBPP has since confirmed that the retaining wall works, undertaken by the Lost Paradise Resort owner, is illegal.

The city council also admitted that the illegal works went undetected by its enforcement team because it was carried below the road surface.

The works were illegally conducted on a slope between the hilly coastal road of Jalan Batu Ferringhi and the resort grounds.

Penang Forum and PHW urged the state to launch a thorough investigation into the incident and identify those who can be charged for negligence.

“We urge the authorities to call for explanations, open up records and impose the maximum penalties as a deterrent to prevent such needless loss of lives,” they said.

Currently, one lane of the 50m of the road heading towards Batu Ferringhi has been closed to traffic to allow for mitigation and repair works by Public Works Department (PWD).

The PWD has found that it was the illegal construction works that led to the slope giving way and causing the collapse.

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