Malaysia PM blames Selangor amid arguments over accountability for flood crisis

Flood victims at an evacuation centre in Shah Alam, Selangor, on Dec 20, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
A view of buildings and vehicles submerged in flood waters in Shah Alam, Selangor state, Malaysia, on Dec 19, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Thursday (Jan 20) blamed the lack of preparedness in Selangor, the worst-hit state in last month's floods, for its slow response and losses, prolonging arguments over accountability for Malaysia's worst flooding in history.

Datuk Seri Ismail singled out Selangor, the most developed state, in a special parliamentary session meant to address issues surrounding the causes and management of the crisis.

"There were weaknesses in the state and district-level disaster management committees, and I was forced to intervene," he said in his opening address.

Selangor is one of three states led by the leading opposition bloc Pakatan Harapan (PH).

Mr Ismail's federal administration and the Selangor state administration led by Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari have blamed each other for the slow responses by the authorities in rescuing and getting aid to flood victims in the days after the floods, which started on Dec 18 last year.

"The Selangor flood management did not improve after the second and third day, leading to dissatisfaction over slow aid," said Mr Ismail, while comparing the disaster management responses in Selangor to that in Pahang - his home state.

The floods in Selangor claimed 25 lives, and Pahang was the second-worst affected state with 21 deaths. Malaysia recorded a total of 54 deaths due to the floods, the deadliest in history, with another two missing.

Unlike Selangor which saw large-scale urban flooding at densely populated areas, Pahang saw mud floods and timber logs being washed away - raising concerns about the role that logging had in causing the flooding.

However, Mr Ismail said that unlike Selangor, Pahang's disaster management apparatus was more prepared and orderly, and had "managed well" despite some challenges.

PH leaders on Thursday raised their concerns about logging activities in Pahang, which allegedly resumed just a month after the devastating floods. 

The state government imposed a temporary halt on all logging activities on Jan 4 but Pahang’s Bilut assemblyman Lee Chin Chen, who is from PH, said logging activities were still ongoing in Bentong, which was badly affected by the floods. 

PH lawmakers raised questions about the logging ban, with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim urging government leaders to demand that timber companies compensate flood victims. 

In his address, the Prime Minister also defended his own role in managing the disaster, pointing out that he was on the ground and chaired meetings with disaster management agencies on the first day of floods, while many other "MPs and assemblymen were missing".

Mr Ismail made no mention of some of his own Cabinet ministers who came under heavy criticism for having travelled abroad during the floods and also for allegedly making mere courtesy visits as media events to flood-hit areas.

His remarks by and large did not sit well with many PH lawmakers, who asked Mr Ismail not to make any snide remarks about the role of others.

Mr Ismail's administration and PH currently have a confidence-and-supply deal in effect. It was inked in September last year and is expected to last until at least July this year.

Datuk Seri Anwar swiftly pointed out the absence of several ministers during the floods, singling out Environment and Water Minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man who went on an umrah pilgrimage during the floods.

"People were dying, houses were getting swept away, but they chose to perform umrah. This has to be corrected," said Datuk Seri Anwar while debating on the floods issue.

The Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) chief also said that any PH lawmakers who did not perform their duties well during the floods would be dropped in the next elections, expected to take place this year.

Many flood victims, especially in Selangor, had previously spoken about getting help from volunteers and non-profit organisations only during the first couple of days of flooding.

Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz said on Thursday that the relief package could reach up to RM2 billion (S$642 million). He added that  the production value of the economic sector is expected to drop between RM4 billion and RM8 billion due to the floods. 

Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim said Malaysia needs RM300 billion for long-term solutions to flood problems over the next 50 years. This would include building up infrastructure for flood mitigation and preventing coastal erosion. 

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