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.