Media Release: Bukit Kukus: An Obvious Case of Wilful Negligence

Bukit Kukus: An Obvious Case of Wilful Negligence: The New Malaysia Must Not Ignore

Press Release 25 October 2018

The tragic incident in Bukit Kukus, Paya Terebung Penang which has so far claimed the lives of nine people is something that could have been avoided. This incident and others in the past such as the one that claimed the lives of 11 people on Oct 21 2017 in Tg. Bunga proves the incompetency of the local council and state authorities in monitoring hill slope developments in Penang.

From 2017 to 2018, there has been hundreds of landslides incidents reported in Penang. One of such incidents is the Granito project. It has been one year since the Granito incident occurred in October 2017, however the state inquiry committee on the incident is yet to finalize its report into the investigation and no is one held responsible thus far. The State must explain why it is taking so long to complete the investigations. It looks very bad on the State government. Justice delayed is justice denied.

The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) believes that these sort of incidents could have been avoided if the local council had proper mechanisms in place to monitor and take action on no-compliance related issues. Hill slide development in Penang and its related problem has come to a serious level that we seem to be losing control over its effect. C4 would like to raise the following questions and points in regards to the tragedy that occurred at Bukit Kukus.

1. Was there an Environmental Impact Assessment study conducted in regards to the 5km Paya Terubong Bypass Road. If yes, was the risk of landslides raised in the Report?

2. What mitigating actions were taken by the council and developers to address the concerns of a landslide? Was the developer in anyway trying to cut cost in the project by not carrying out certain mitigation works or using cheap quality materials?

3. YB Zairil Khir Johari, State Exco for Works, Utilities and Flood Mitigation Committee in a press meeting on 23 October 2018, had made it clear that many irregularities had been found on inspection at Bukut Kukus on Oct 8, including the absence of geotextile sheets which are used to reinforce and protect cut slopes. C4 is shocked, that despite these irregularities, no immediate stop work order was issued. The lack of seriousness and improper action taken by the council has now caused the death of nine lives and more.

4. Many of the victims in the landslide incident are undocumented foreign workers. This was why the authorities were unable to confirm how many victims are buried under the sand initially. It is a shame that the state government and council is working with a contractor that hires undocumented workers. The state government can’t claim ignorance on this. Proper mechanisms should have been in place to ensure all workers working in a government project are documented and covered by medical insurance. The government should now conduct an investigation into all other government projects and check if the workers in those projects are documented and covered by insurance.

5. The employer is now denying that the dead victims were working for them. It seems that the employer is trying to avoid admitting that these workers were indeed theirs. The site is not a residential area but a work site. There is no reason for someone not working for the contractor to stay in such a condition at a work site. The dead victims found in the cabin were of many nationalities. The fact that those dead were from many countries and living at the site, proves that these were workers involved in the project. Criminal action should be taken on the contractor for hiring and harboring undocumented workers, if indeed this was the case. The labor department should also conduct an investigation if the rights of these workers were violated? The incident also raises the issue of living conditions for migrant workers. Why were these workers housed in such a dangerous location? The employer should be held responsible for this and the local council for failing to monitor safety issues at the site.

6. The State must explain on the claims made by Disaster Mitigation and Land Erosion Management expert Prof Dr Habibah Lateh from Universiti Sains Malaysia that the soil used at the construction is not suitable and friable. She had also claimed that the type of rock which was found is said to be granite which tends to crumble. Clearly there seems to be expert evidence here that points to bad decisions being made and cost cutting measure implemented at the expense of risk and compliance. The project should be put on hold until these issues are addressed, or we might risk an even bigger disaster. What if the entire bridge were to collapsed after being open to the public? These claims should not be taken lightly. The contractor should be suspended and disallowed from carrying out any projects pending a complete investigation into the cause of the incident. Further action should be taken on the contractor if indeed these claims were found to be true.

7. In the light of multiple disasters hitting Penang the last few years, C4 calls upon the state government to put on hold and conduct an independent review of the PTMP project, particularly the part where it involves hill drilling and blasting. This incident has proved that the council and state authorities is not competent and able to monitor or ensure that the project could be carried out without any incidents or tragedies. If the state could not be trusted to ensure such a project of a smaller scale is incident free, how would it ensure the safety of a mega project such as the PTMP especially when many concerns including, landslides, the care of explosive materials, the construction which is close to the dam and fault lines had been raised. With the current council’s lack of competence, we urge, independent reviews of the PTMP to be done urgently. It would be a catastrophic disaster if the mega project is allowed to be carried out, without proper safeguards, reviews and studies. The Bukit Kukus incident affirms the consequences of bad management practices both by the council and contractor and lack of independent consultation. We should not allow this to be repeated in the PTMP project.

8. There is no doubt that this incident proves a failure on the part of the council. Urgent action must be taken to address the incompetency of the local council. Civil society representative, field experts and government agencies should be roped in to review existing procedures and laws to address the issues affecting the council. These review should cover various aspects from budget allocations, trainings of staff and level of expertise and enforcement mechanisms. We cannot allow our council to continue its operation status qua. Drastic measures must be taken immediately.

The state should come clean and transparent on the tragedy. There should be no cover up and those responsible, contractors, council staff, engineering officials that failed to carry out their duties should be held accountable. The state should also ensure proper compensation is awarded to the victims and their families, especially for those without documentation and insurance. These workers had died due to human failure and not Mother Nature.

With modern and great engineering capabilities in the world today, it is a shame that such incidents still occur.

The incident is also a wakeup call for us to reconsider hill side developments, even if it is for the benefit of public interest.

Justice must be served in this incidents and no stones must be left unturned.

Released By
Cynthia Gabriel and Sudhagaran Stanley
Executive Director and Northern Region Coordinator

In The News

New Straits Times, Bukit Kukus landslide: An obvious case of wilful negligence the New Malaysia must not ignore