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

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

Hold professionals liable in building collapse

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) is appalled at the state of affairs concerning the safety of our buildings and the safety standards practiced by local and foreign contractors here. The country is still reeling from the tragedy of the Jaya Supermarket deaths and now we have another near miss in the form of the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium roof collapse in Kuala Terengganu.

It is shocking that the stadium which is barely a year old and cost taxpayers 292 million ringgit could have 60 per cent of its roof collapse for no apparent reason. The damage is estimated at 25 million ringgit. According to media reports, the stadium's consultants were worried about the integrity of the roof which was built by a foreign contractor.

Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Dato’ Muhyiddin Yassin expressed his dismay with the collapse. "Sometimes we are not satisfied with the contractors who were given responsibility (to build the stadium). There is usually a consultant to ensure that the construction will go smoothly, but did that happen?" he asked. Obviously, worry did not seem to have any effect on the structural integrity of the stadium. CAP questions how these consultants who are paid to ensure the safety and integrity of the building allowed the structure to remain without investigating further to ascertain if the structure was sound, especially since the roof was observed to be sagging. What is further shocking is that the Public Works Department has yet to issue a Work Completion Certificate for the stadium. This simply means that for all intents and purposes, the stadium is technically and legally incomplete and unsafe by any standards for use. Even with the PWD voicing concern over the sagging roof and waiting for a report on it to be submitted by the contractors, the stadium was deemed suitable for sports events.

The people responsible for the safety of the building even allowed the 50,000-capacity stadium to be used for 2008 Sukma Games, football practice by the state football team and a sports meet involving local universities' staff which was to take place the very next day. The collapse of the roof was above the grandstand and royal box. It would have been an unimaginable tragedy for the nation if the roof had collapsed then.

The callousness displayed towards public safety in this country has reached atrocious levels with every new disaster. And yet, there are hardly any changes in the attitudes of contractors, consultants and governmental officials towards public safety.

CAP welcomes Datuk S Subramaniam, the Human Resources Minister’s pledge to amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) 1994 to “ensure that the professionals will be more responsible and liable when it comes to safety requirements. Therefore, once the Act is amended, the professionals are accountable for the monitoring the process. So if anything goes wrong immediately the law will allow us to take action,’’

CAP sincerely hopes that the Amendment to the Act will be expedited in the interest of public safety. CAP also calls for the details of the findings of the investigation into this near-tragedy to be made public via an independent commission of inquiry.

Were safety measures followed in building demolition?

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) is shocked at the circumstances surrounding the Jaya Supermarket tragedy. It is incomprehensible that hazardous demolition work which is normally executed after careful planning could go awry and result in the entrapment and death of 7 foreign workers.

According to a media report, Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister Lajim Ukin said initial investigations indicated that the structure might have collapsed due to overloading on the upper level of the building with heavy machinery neing used in the demolition work.

This is not surprising as eyewitnesses claimed to have seen six cranes perched on top of the building toppling down to ground level. A Petaling Jaya City Council official said the incident was unfortunate for the seven workers as the demolition of the building was supposed to have taken place only after 6pm. A spokesman of the demolition company also said that the structure of that part of the four-storey building which collapsed was unbonded, while the undamaged part was bonded.

Taking into consideration that actual demolition work reportedly had yet to start, it is quite apparent that the unbonded section of the building was made to bear the load of heavy machinery which the section was unable to cope with. CAP questions how heavy machinery was allowed to be installed at these sections without the load bearing capacity of the section first studied, if at all. Did the engineer and the safety officer in charge of operations at that time fulfill their professional requirements? Were they aware that there were altogether more than 80 workers at various locations at the site who were potentially at high risk to life and limb? Were all safety precautions taken beforehand to ensure that they would not be affected in any way by the weight of those six cranes perched on unsteady platforms? Was the weight of the heavy machinery specified after responsible checking of the load and determined to be safe in line with Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) guidelines?

It is the employers or contractors duty to assess workplace risks and put in preventive measures to eliminate hazards at the workplace, especially at a high risk location such as this demolition site. Were any of these measures undertaken? And if so, were they in accordance to the DOSH guidelines? Did the person responsible for the cranes carry out a complete inspection and testing of the cranes and their mounting points for stability before operations, as per DOSH guidelines? Were all DOSH guidelines pertaining to crane operation safety and load bearing capacities of the mounting points enforced by the main contractor? Indeed, for a tragedy of this magnitude to occur, CAP questions if the contractors even allowed DOSH to be involved in their operations at all.

Too many foreign workers’ lives have been sacrificed in this country because contractors failed to comply with DOSH safety regulations. Even if their families are compensated, it will never bring their loved ones back. Have the lives of these people who have helped to develop our country become worthless to us?

DOSH regulations for safe and responsible crane and construction operations as specified in its “Guidelines for Public Safety and Health at Construction Sites” are minimal, unambiguous and well defined. There is no reason or excuse by any agency or party involved in crane or construction operations to be ignorant or negligent in complying with these life saving guidelines.

The question of responsibility and accountability also arises. Last year, the Minister for Human Resources, Datuk Dr S Subramaniam assured us that 'professionals' will be made responsible for workplace safety. He said, "If a crane accident occurs at a construction site, we want the engineers involved in ensuring the crane's safety to be answerable." He added that this was among the measures taken to ensure organisations implement well-defined safety and health practices for their workers and that these 'professionals' should ensure a safety mechanism is in place.

CAP concurs with the Ministers call for responsibility in ensuring the implementation of safety and health mechanisms at construction sites and accountability in dealing with construction site accidents by the “professionals” concerned. With the onus put by the Human Resources Ministry on main contractors to take responsibility for worksite safety, CAP urges the responsible parties to be accountable to the relevant authorities by revealing to them details of the Jaya Supermarket tragedy.

CAP also questions if DOSH has been actively involved in the implementation and enforcement of safety procedures and mechanisms at this highly hazardous work site and if DOSH has documentation of their monitoring. CAP calls for the team of forensic engineers with DOSH to reveal the findings of their investigations into the accident and in the process, play a central role in establishing a benchmark for the conformance to their Guidelines by all in the construction industry of Malaysia.

Press Statement – 30 May, 2009