GEORGE TOWN, Aug 28 — The Commission of Enquiry into a fatal landslide in 2017 that killed 11 construction workers has recommended criminal charges against the consultant engineer of the housing project in Tanjung Bungah.
The 116-page report by the commission recommended police investigate Khoo Koon Tai for gross negligence.
“The commission recommends that a criminal investigation be conducted by the police (on the direction of the Attorney General, if necessary), into Ir Khoo Koon Tai’s gross negligence which had caused the loss of 11 lives; to determine whether or not Ir Khoo ought to be prosecuted under Section 304A of the Penal Code,” one of the recommendations said.
Section 304A is for causing death by negligence not amounting to culpable homicide and it carries with it imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both, upon conviction.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, who released the full report today, said there were nine recommendations in total and that the commission hopes they will not be in vain.
“One of the recommendations was that we release this report in full to the media, which is why we are releasing copies of it today,” he told reporters at his office here.
The first recommendation was for the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM) to discipline Khoo and look into all aspects of his gross negligence, misconduct and unprofessional conduct.
The commission concluded that Khoo was primarily responsible for causing the disaster and that he had committed a total 15 negligent acts and omissions in relation to the slope which eventually collapsed.
The commission also recommended that BEM take disciplinary action against design engineer Victor Ong Chee We, whose negligence, on a smaller scale, also resulted in 11 deaths.
While the commission had absolved the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) of responsibility for the slope collapse, it said the local council needs to improve its procedures.
Among the recommended measures is for the MBPP to immediately draw up and enforce a policy that does not allow any development project to commence without a resident engineer stationed at the site.
“Names and contact particulars of resident engineers must be submitted to MBPP before any commencement of work is allowed,” the report stated.
The commission recommended that the Safety Guideline for Hillsite Development 2012 be amended to be applicable on any slopes above the gradient of 25 degrees.
“A geotechnical report and an independent checker must be made compulsory in relation to all such slopes,” it said.
The commission recommended that MBPP and the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) review their criteria for issuance of stop-work orders to better address situations of suspected danger or risk of life in the future.
“The present practice of issuing a stop-work order only for the most serious infringements, and often only after a disaster had happened, cannot be tolerated any longer,” it said.
The authorities were also told to enact regulations to improve attention given to safety issues by developers and contractors.
This included safety training for project managers, power given to safety officers to raise safety issues and that all site meetings be audio-recorded and stored for 10 years from the completion of project.
The MBPP and local authorities were also told to implement a Geographical Information System for the collection, collation and storage of relevant data and information that will assist and benefit engineers in doing geotechnical designs.
The commission then recommended that DOSH implement a policy of surprise checks at construction sites without waiting for a complaint.
In its findings, the commission found that the incident, which happened on October 21, 2017, was entirely preventable if the people responsible had taken the necessary and proper steps to ensure the stability of the slope and the safety of the workers.
“The landslide that morning did not simply develop overnight. It was a disaster which had been waiting to happen, for a period of time,” it stated.
The commission found that there was a series of successive acts and omissions that led to the failure of the slope.
“There were three landslips, two minor ones and a major incident, before the eventual collapse of the slope,” the report pointed out.
It stated that the landslips were clear warnings that the slope was unsafe but actions taken to mitigate this were inadequate and “tardy”.
“The engineer in charge of the slope, Khoo, had many opportunities to put things right by stabilising the slope. He squandered all opportunities,” the report said.
It stated that Khoo was not at the site and had relied on second-hand information, via pictures sent to him on WhatsApp, to assess what was going on at the site.
“This kind of remote-control supervision without a resident engineer, as practised by Khoo, did not meet the standard of care required of a design engineer, a consultant engineer and a superintending officer,” it said.
The Commission of Enquiry was set up after the incident in October 2017 and it had conducted public hearings over 26 days from January 2018 in which 28 witnesses were called in to give their testimonies.
The commission was chaired by Datuk Yeo Yang Poh with Datuk Gue See Sew and Ramli Nazir as fellow commissioners.
The commission completed its report on July 22 this year and it was subsequently submitted to the Penang Governor.
The landslide in Tanjung Bungah occurred at the site of the Granito housing project during construction works.
KAA Sdn Bhd was the civil and structural engineering consultants for the project and the superintending officer for the earthworks. Khoo was the consultant engineer from KAA.
Copies of the report are available for sale at RM50 per copy from September 3 to 30 at Level Three, Komtar. The public can call 04-6505480 for further information.