Firecrackers and illegal fireworks are still in the market

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) has repeatedly called for a strict enforcement of a ban on firecrackers/fireworks for more than 20 years but these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

While we are struggling just to enforce the law, more than 40,000 people signed a petition calling for a new law to ban the public use of fireworks in the United Kingdom (UK). Their reasons are that fireworks cause “alarm, distress and anxiety” to “many people and animals”.

Currently a person violating the fireworks legislation will be fined £5,000 (RM 27,125) or a jail sentence of six months under the U.K. legislation.

The situation is so different from Malaysia. The sound of firecrackers and fireworks can still be heard whenever there is the slightest hint of a festive season although they have been banned under the Explosives Act 1957 (EA 1957) for decades.

Section 4 (2) of the Act stated that “Any person manufacturing, possessing or importing any explosive in contravention of a notification issued under this section shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for five years, or a fine of ten thousand ringgit, or to both.”

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) calls for the amendment of the Act to ensure that a person convicted of manufacturing, possessing or importing of explosives be given a mandatory prison term and confiscate the vehicles in which the firecrackers/fireworks are found.

We urge maximum penalties to be meted out on importers, retailers, and whoever in possession or play with firecrackers/fireworks to show that the Royal Malaysian Police and the Customs really mean business. Otherwise the sentences passed down is viewed as ineffectual.

As for the availability of firecrackers/fireworks in the country, it was reported in 2016 that they have been smuggled across the country’s border with “corruption at official entry points”. Besides being sold by retailers they can also be ordered via viral messaging applications.

In 2016, the former IGP Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar had sternly warned that parents caught buying or allowing their children to play with firecrackers will face a seven-year prison term. We would like to know if this punishment had been carried out and how many parents are serving prison sentence last year.

The blatant violations of EA 1957 for the past decades reflect the emasculated will to implement what had already been passed by the Parliament. We wonder when the firecrackers/fireworks ban under the EA 1957 will be taken seriously rather than be seen as formulating laws for half-hearted implementation.

PRESS RELEASE, 24 January 2018

RESPONSE OF TBRA TO PENANG STATE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON TANJUNG BUNGAH LANDSLIDE TRAGEDY

The Tanjung Bungah Residents’ Association (TBRA) welcomes the proposal by the Penang State Government to set up a Commission of Inquiry (SCI) to investigate the landslide that took place on 21 October at Lengkok Lembah Permai that killed 11 people.

We ask that the SCI be open to the public to ensure transparency in view of the public interest involved, and that it also allows the full participation and engagement of all stakeholders, including TBRA.

On the terms of reference of the SCI, we are glad to note that it includes the project approval process and procedures to see if they were in accordance with guidelines.

We hope that this will also include not only the relevant guidelines but also laws related to the granting of planning and other approvals, as well as monitoring and enforcement aspects with a view to improving them.

This must also include a review of the guidelines on ‘hill site development 2012’, as well as in ensuring sufficient capacity exists in the relevant authorities to effectively monitor and enforce any conditions imposed.

On the TOR which calls for a re-examination of “other matters related to the project including if the project was built on flat land or on a hillslope and to determine if the quarry site was the reason for the failure of the temporary work site slope,” we wish to state that what is also material is an examination of the characteristics and overall conditions at the site and its surroundings, including the state of the site prior to the granting of planning approval and the changes made to the natural terrain.

Developments on Hill Lands

On a separate note, TBRA also welcomes the statement of YB Jagdeep Singh Deo that the State Government will continue to prohibit any new high-rise development on lands above 76 metres (250 feet) above sea level.

The YB referred to the policy in the Penang Structure Plan as regards the protection of hill lands which are above 76 m above sea level.

In this regard however, we are perplexed by how the MBPP had in 2012, approved the construction of 600 units comprising high-rise apartments and bungalows on hill lands covering 80 acres which are above 76 metres above sea level of which, approximately 43% of which are on slopes exceeding a gradient of 25 degrees for the Sunway City project in Sungei Ara, Penang.

In fact, we are shocked to learn that the State Authority had in 2011 approved an application by the developer to remove the ‘hill land’ status of the lands under the Land Conservation Act 1960.

The MBPP relied on the 2009 Guidelines for ‘Special Projects’ to allow the Sungei Ara project.

These actions completely defy the State Government’s stance that hill lands must be protected.

In order to prevent a repeat of this and to respect the policies in the Penang Structure Plan as regards hill land, the State government must now do the following immediately:

(i)                    revise or redefine what are ‘special projects’ in the 2009 guidelines in order to explicitly prohibit any future development on hill lands except for essential public amenities.

(ii)                   it must also stop approving any further applications for excision of the status of ‘hill lands’ from the Land Conservation Act 1960.

We also call on the State and the MBPP to also monitor all developments on hill lands and hillslopes in Penang and take immediate measures to ensure the safety of those living at the foothills of such developments, as in the case of the PayaTerubong residents in Taman Seri Rambai/Lau Geok Swee .

The TBRA also seeks the clarification of the Penang State Government and the MajlisBandaranPulau Pinang (MBPP) as to why it is not following the policy in the Penang Structure Plan which designates TanjungBungah as being in the ‘secondary corridor’.

The Structure Plan clearly states that in Tanjung Bungah, any housing development cannot exceed 15 units per acre as it is in the ‘secondary corridor’.

Why has the State and the MBPP not followed this policy which is legally binding? We seek an urgent response in this regard.

PRESS RELEASE, 27 OCTOBER 2017

Driven to Their Graves by Roads

Sahabat Alam  Malaysia (SAM) is appalled at the  frequent occurrences of road kills affecting our endangered species. It has been reported  that since 2011 wild animals such as  civets, wild boars, marbled cats, tapirs and others etc  have been killed in road accidents.

Among wildlife,  mammals  make up the highest number of animals killed in these accidents, accounting  for 1,110 deaths.

According to the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (July 14, 2016 – Bernama) these protected species were killed on federal, state and municipal roads involving 61 roads and highway networks in the whole country.

Not surprisingly, most  accidents have taken place in or near forested areas where wild animals tried to cross a road to get from one forest area  to another.

Despite SAM and other wildlife NGOs heightening the harmful effects of roads to wildlife, road density continues to increase with roads criss-crossing the country. Federal and state governments and local transportation departments devote huge budgets to construction and upgrading of roads.

Multinational lending institutions, such as the World Bank, finance roads that dissect the  pristine rainforest, and usher in a flood of settlers who destroy both the rainforest and the indigenous cultures. Public land-managing agencies build thousands of miles of roads each year to support their resource extraction activities.  Most public agencies disregard the ecological impacts of roads, and attempt to justify logging  roads as benefiting the public  and wildlife management.

Although the effects of different types of roads vary, virtually all are bad, and the net effect of all roads is nothing short of catastrophic.

Roadkill does  have a significant impact on wildlife population. The greatest threat posed to wildlife are vehicles on high speed highways.  Unimproved, unpaved roads are less dangerous.  Increases in traffic volume  results in more collisions on any given road, and in our profligate society more people means more cars on virtually every road.

While roadkill statistics take into account the  number of animals killed,  does it  account for animals that crawl off the road to die after being hit?  What about the number of  reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and  birds? Snakes are particularly vulnerable to roadkill, as the warm asphalt attracts them.  What about  the thousands of  insects smashed on windshields?

Despite signboards on animal crossings, transverse bars,  solar amber lights,  animal viaducts, tunnels and pathways at locations  with the highest number of roadkills, wildlife continues to perish.  The questions are:  How effective are the animal crossings in ensuring a lessening of roadkills; and Have any studies been conducted to find  the percentage of  wildlife using the constructed animal crossings?

In fact, roadkills should not  occur at all with  proper planning among the  various agencies before construction of roads and highways  through wildlife habitats.

Roads are  major threats to the survival of wildlife.  They  act  as a displacement factor that affects  animal distribution and movement patterns.  Animal population fragmenting occurs when access corridors that encourage development and logging, traverse through the national forests Poaching of rare plants and animals then occurs threatening the very existence of the forests’  rare flora and  fauna.

Humans incessantly demand  new roads for  connectivity,  forcing wild animals closer to roads and human settlements, so that even new wildlife crossings can do little to save animal lives.

The Ministry of Works (MOW) and the Malaysian Highway Authorities (MHA) must not turn a blind eye to the negative impacts of new roads and highways on the environment.  Reckless planning and construction of new roads could have a huge impact on the surrounding environment and the ecosystem.

Road kills can be avoided  if these government  bodies show  a high level of concern about the importance of wildlife and their conservation and protection. When potential risks to the environment are identified and assessed,   and management options thoroughly considered, road managers, planners and scientists can work together to determine where it is best to site new roads and minimise any ecological damage.

Letter to Editor, 12 October 2017

 

MALAYSIA’S TOWERING INFERNOS?

The Consumers’ Association of Penang is horrified by the news of the Grenfell Tower “Inferno” disaster. With the number of high rise buildings littering our country, it is not hard to imagine such an incident happening in Malaysia. More frightening is the current development trend of building high density skyscrapers – with this we have effectively increased the number of people residing in these death traps.

Based on the complaints CAP has received from residents of flats and other high rise buildings, we are faced with the unnerving fact that many of the factors that were prerequisite to the disaster on 14 June in North Kensington, London’s public housing flats are also issues that are faced by the residents of high-rise buildings in our country.

Some of the complaints we have received at CAP so far include:

 

·         High rise building safety standards not being complied with

·         Management corporation ignoring residents when they highlight safety problems

·         Grill structures blocking emergency stairwells

·         Broken fire extinguishers and sprinkler system remain unfixed

·         Building material used believed to be substandard

When these problems are brought to the attention of the Commissioner of Buildings (COB), the proper authority to deal with problems involving strata properties, we expect that they will be rectified but that is not what happens – the problems persist.

We find that the extent of the action by COB is to write letters to the management corporation, letters that are readily ignored. Any follow up done by COB will follow the same cycle.

Who are the residents of high rise buildings supposed to rely on to ensure the safety of their lives if not their management corporation and the authority in charge of strata properties? The answer is there is no one else.

To quote the age old cliché, the situation in many of our high rise buildings, especially the low cost and medium low cost flats that are old and have not been maintained well coupled with the fact that the relevant authority is not taking effective action, is “a recipe for disaster”.

Let the Grenfell Tower incident be a lesson to not only developers and contractors of our building industry but also to the management corporations and COBs in this country as well. Do not remain complacent with the notion that incidents such as this tragedy do not happen. If it can happen in a country that claims to be developed then it can definitely happen here in Malaysia.

We ask that our existing high rise buildings be inspected immediately by the relevant authority to determine whether they comply with existing safety standards. Prevention is better than cure. It is also imperative that the building industry reconsider its current obsession with building these skyscrapers. It is time to take the safety of would be home owners into consideration and build lower to the ground.

Letter to the Editor, 4 July 2017

Farm Animals Need Protection from Fire

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is highly disturbed to learn of a recent fire in Yong Peng, near Batu Pahat, Johor where a chicken coop was razed to the ground along with the  74 000 chicks.  Although such incidents of fire killing thousands of chicks are sporadic, barn fires capture less public attention than they deserve because they happen in rural areas, often far from major populated centres. However this  should not be taken as a trivial matter but viewed with serious concern by the agriculture authorities.

Being burned alive is said to be the most painful way to die. When the temperatures started rising due to the fire, it basically created a wildfire like effect that just raced through the chicken house.  Often, there are too few workers on hand to do anything to help the animals. By the time firefighters arrive it is often too late.  These hens will continue to choke and burn to death, while firefighters go on putting their lives at risk to battle flames that are deadly.  In addition, farm workers and first responders are put at terrible risk every time one of these fires breaks out.

These birds are hyper-confined in ways that under normal conditions cause severe stress. Add an inescapable death by searing heat, its hard to imagine a worse fate.  Even amidst the horrific mass death, chickens are regarded as mere commodities rather than casualties and their suffering is sadly ignored.  The news  solely focuses on profit loss, leaving out the anguish of these birds trapped to burn alive. Their deaths often measured by weight and financial loss rather than by number of lives.

 

The first thought would be how much money was lost instead of how many lives destroyed.

It is a stark reminder that society lends more credence to financial gain and loss than to the unnecessary suffering endured by animals. Though destined to be dinner, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chicken and ducks are not farm equipment or produce. They are sentient beings capable of experiencing fear and pain and they  deserve to be protected  from the inconceivable torture of being burned alive.

The agribusiness facilities such as buildings, shed, or barns with thousands of birds being raised for meat in a single shed, and several thousand egg laying hens in a single battery-cage unit make their evacuation, when a fire breaks out, virtually impossible.

The lives of farmed animals are continuously filled with misery and deprivation and with more and more animals crammed into tight spaces, confined and unable to escape in an emergency, drastic changes need to be implemented in order to prevent fires from occurring in the first place.

They live awful enough lives as it is on dirty, crowded factory farms.  Can society ensure that  they at least will not be burnt alive or suffocate to death before we get around to slaughtering them?

As long as our culture continues to view  farmed animals as fungible commodities, then this will allow farmers to dismiss animals as unworthy of protection from horrific harms like fire.  In a society deemed civilized and humane this is unacceptable.

Farm animals give their lives to supply Malaysian’s demand for meat and animal products.

It is time to draw attention to the serious lack of safety regulations and measures applied to agriculture.   There is no reason why preventive measures cannot be put in place even in the form of simple alarms and smoke detectors.  There is extreme lack of any type of safety precaution.  There are no regulations, no rules, and no recommendations available to prevent senseless deaths of so many defenceless animals.

Change is long overdue allowing them to burn with no means of escape is yet another manifestation of a broken food system that fails to acknowledge animals as the sensitive individuals they really are.

Press Statement, 29 June 2017