Lessons from the Penang landslide: Sin Chew Daily

Malaysia Fire and Rescue and Malaysia Civil Defence Department personnel carrying a last body of a landslide victim in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.
Malaysia Fire and Rescue and Malaysia Civil Defence Department personnel carrying a last body of a landslide victim in Tanjung Bungah, Penang. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In its editorial on Oct 24, the paper calls for urgent measures to identify the culprits and lapses that led to the landslide at a construction site in Penang.

KUALA LUMPUR (SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Eleven people were buried alive in the landslide at a Tanjung Bungah construction site in Penang. The rescue team was racing against time to take them out of the mud.

Indeed nothing comes more important than saving lives, and the public have been counting on the rescue team to bring the victims out, alive.

However, we should at the same time conduct inner reflection of this whole incident and try to learn a valuable lesson from the painful experience so that no more innocent lives will have to be sacrificed in future.

The landslide has not only ached our hearts but has also sounded an alarm bell, raising our concerns of the possible risks associated with housing projects on hill slopes.

At the same time, enforcement authorities nationwide must also take cue from this unfortunate incident and tighten their vetting of projects on hill slopes and make sure they conform to the most fundamental safety standards.

Owing to the severity of this issue involving precious human lives, the relevant authorities are duty-bound to thoroughly investigate the Tanjung Bungah landslide so as to identify the actual causes.

Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng has said he will propose to set up an inquiry committee to be overseen by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri (head of state in Malay) at the next state assembly sitting.

The committee will conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the tragedy as soon as possible, especially with all sorts of accusations circulating around, including human negligence, lax supervision on the part of relevant authorities and non-compliance with safety SOP (standard operating procedure), among others.

The committee will have to identify the actual causes in order to stop the spread of rumours.

Questions that need to be hammered out include whether the local authorities have acted in accordance with the safety guidelines for hill slope development.

If the authorities acted as per the requirement yet were unable to avert the tragedy, does it therefore imply inadequacy of the guidelines that need to be reinforced?

Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu has previously objected to hill slope development projects in his constituency, but unfortunately his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Who then should be held accountable for the landslide this time?

We are waiting for the committee to come up with satisfactory answers to the above questions, but we need to stress here that the most important thing now is to identify the culprits and lapses in the existing operating procedures and have the problems rectified.

The landslide has also highlighted the contradiction between physical development and environmental preservation.

Pushing ahead development projects is the most natural course of action for any capitalist society. That said, as we proceed with these projects, we must also strike a balance and not to develop excessively at the expense of environmental and safety aspects.

Sin Chew Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.