Penang landslide: Penang government admits environment department rejected project's application

The cause of the tragedy was more likely due to human error than natural phenomenon, according to Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
The cause of the tragedy was more likely due to human error than natural phenomenon, according to Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA - The Penang government has admitted that the Department of Environment (DoE) had previously rejected an application to build a residential project at the site of a massive landslide in the state which killed 11 people, The Star reported.

But the state government said approval for the project was given by the One Stop Centre Committee (OSC),  which consists of more than 20 technical agencies.

Construction workers were carrying out work at the basement area of the affordable housing project when disaster struck at about 8.30am last Saturday.

Most of those killed were foreign workers from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Myanmar. The final two bodies, Malaysian Yuan Kuok Wern and Bangladeshi Muhammad Monirul, were retrieved on Monday morning. 

On Monday (Oct 23), Penang Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the OSC, which is in charge of approving property development plans on the island, takes in views from more than 20 external and internal agencies before approving it.

"The DoE may have objected to the plan, but after considering the views from all the agencies in OSC, the decision was made to approve the project," Chow told a press conference.

The state government was responding to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry's statement earlier that the developer's application to build a residential project at the Tanjung Bungah site, north of the Penang capital George Town, had been rejected as it was located near a quarry site.

"The development site is located right next to a granite quarry, Teik Granite Quarry, which is a permanent granite quarry that started operations in 1960," the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

The ministry said it initially received an application from the developer of the residential project, Taman Sri Bunga, for the Planning Permission Application on Jan 9, 2015 but it was subsequently rejected later that month.

It said the quarry site performed blasting twice a month and the last was done on Oct 9.

"Once the rocks are blasted loose from the hillside, they are sent to a crushing site within the quarry where the rocks are then crushed to smaller pieces for construction use," it added.

The ministry said that it did not support the developer's application as there were insufficient buffer zones between the apartment project and the quarrying activities nearby as stipulated in the Guidelines of Siting and Zoning of Industries and Residential Areas.

But Penang Island City Council mayor Maimunah Mohd Sharif, who chaired Monday's press conference, said the earthworks planning permission was presented on May 14, 2015 and was approved with conditions on June 6, 2015.

"Commencement of work was given on Jan 18, 2016. The development complied with the 'Safety Guidelines for Hill Site Development 2012' and it was located at the approved 'blasting point' and 'crushing point'," she added.

She said from the committee's preliminary observation, the council suspected that there was negligence, mishandling and mismanagement at the construction site.

Chow stressed it was a construction site accident and advised the committee to lodge a police report over the possibility of professional negligence.

The Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had also said human error rather than a natural phenomenon was likely to have been the cause of the landslide.

"Eleven lives were lost, all belonging to one building contracting company. The Penang government will conduct a full and independent inquiry. The cause of the tragedy was more likely due to human error than natural phenomenon," Lim was quoted saying by the Malay Mail Online.

"Something must be very wrong with the worksite for the slope to collapse. Strong suspicions remain towards professional negligence, defects in monitoring and non-compliance with work safety procedures," he added.

The state government said that the developer of the project and the building contractor have been blacklisted, pending the findings of the state inquiry.

The Malay Mail Online reported that the construction site was for the Granito@Permai affordable housing project. The development consists of a 49-storey building with two towers and 12 levels of carparks.

A notice board erected at the site had identified the main developer as BSG Property, the property development arm of Boon Siew Group, along with Taman Sri Bunga.

Lim said during a visit to the site last Saturday that the proposal for a formal inquiry will be put to the state executive council for consideration this week.