Penang landslide

State govt says human error a likely cause

The construction site in Penang where the landslide occurred (left), with a quarry on the right. Malaysia's environment ministry says it had earlier rejected an application by the developer to build on the site because it was next to an active granit
The construction site in Penang where the landslide occurred (left), with a quarry on the right. Malaysia's environment ministry says it had earlier rejected an application by the developer to build on the site because it was next to an active granite quarry.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEW NETWORK

GEORGE TOWN • The Penang state government yesterday said human error was the likely cause of a landslide at a construction site that claimed 11 lives, even as it emerged that Malaysia's environment ministry had not approved the Tanjung Bungah development because it was located next to a quarry.

"The cause of the tragedy was more likely due to human error than natural phenomenon," Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was quoted as 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 of work safety procedures," he added.

Tonnes of laterite earth from an adjacent hill came crashing down on workers at the Granito condominium site last Saturday, burying them in a 35m-high heap of soil. Most of those killed were foreign workers from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Myanmar. The final two bodies, those of Malaysian Yuan Kuok Wern and Bangladeshi Muhammad Monirul, were recovered yesterday.

On Sunday, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry issued a statement saying that the Department of Environment (DOE) had in January rejected an application by the developer to build on the site because it was next to a granite quarry which carried out blasting twice a month, and the residential project involved steep slopes. Despite the department's objections, the work proceeded with "no interference from the state government", the statement said.

The state government responded yesterday by saying that the project was approved by the One Stop Centre Committee (OSC), which considered the views of more than 20 technical internal and external agencies.

"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," Penang Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow told a press conference.

The state government has blacklisted the developer of the project - BSG Property, part of the Boon Siew Group, and Taman Sri Bunga - and the building contractor, pending a state inquiry.

Mr Lim said the establishment of the inquiry commission will be approved next week.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'State govt says human error a likely cause'. Print Edition | Subscribe