The story of the Tanjung Bungah tragedy is a simple one. The Department of Environment (DOE) rejected a developer’s application to build next to a hillslope in Penang, deeming the project to be unsafe. But the DAP-led state government ignored that assessment and allowed the developer to proceed.
The results of that fateful decision are now plain for all to see – 11 dead from an October 21st landslide. Long seen as the poster child of Pakatan-style ‘good governance’, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng tried to downplay the incident as a “worksite accident”. Most of us, however, saw an entirely preventable disaster – perhaps Guan Eng doesn’t know the difference.
Accidents, by definition, happen without prior warning. In this case, the Penang state government was amply warned by multiple parties. DAP assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu, who himself represents Tanjung Bungah, had publicly and repeatedly objected to these sort of projects, including the one hit by disaster.
Clearly frustrated, Teh told Bernama, “Over the past three years, I have been protesting through various channels including the state legislative assembly and writing to the state government but no action has been taken.”
He even supplied the state government with an expert report detailing the risk of hillside development in Penang, including the ill-fated project. According to him, the report was the result of a study by a group of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) experts, a South Korean and a Japanese institution and civil engineers from Kuala Lumpur.
Pulling no punches, he bluntly told Bernama, “If they (state government) had cared and scrutinised the report, maybe the incident would not have taken place. Because of the greed of the quarters concerned, innocent lives were lost.”
What damns the state government further is that Teh is far from the first or only one who has raised serious concerns over the spate of hill-related projects in Penang. Civil society groups have been doing that for years – some of them, like the famous Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), for decades.
The Penang Forum, a coalition of some 20 NGOs, recounted in a letter to Malaysiakini how the state government ignored its plea two years ago to “review and stop further hillslope projects.” The Tanjung Bungah Residents’ Association (TBRA) chair Meenakshi Raman told Free Malaysia Today, “We were called ‘irrational’ by the Penang government when we appealed for hill slope developments to stop. Who’s irrational now?” One couldn’t put it more succinctly.
Of course, the – entirely justified – flood of criticism did little to nudge DAP to any sense of remorse or responsibility. When some NGO officials warned the state government of losses in the upcoming general election, Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy lashed back with an angry tirade.
He said, “[Some NGOs] have warned that what happened to the former government would also happen to the present government in power. They have the temerity and arrogance to warn the Penang government for dereliction of duty towards Penangites.”
He told them to consider forming a political party and working with Barisan if they long for “regime change” in the state. In other words, either show us some respect, or you can shove it and join the other side. Penangites, who live in genuine fear of landslides and floods, might well deduce that Ramasamy shows no lack in “temerity” and “arrogance” himself.
But haven’t we seen this unbelievably arrogant attitude time and again from DAP and Pakatan as a whole? Confident that they can always count on anti-BN sentiment, they seem to believe they can get away with anything. Curiously, even as ‘good governance’ champions, they’re always beyond criticism and accountability – all failures, controversies, and scandals are dismissed as either Umno-BN conspiracies or (very recently) ‘accidents’.
If this tragedy had taken place in a BN-led state, you can be sure that DAP leaders would be calling for state-wide resignations, including and especially that of the presiding chief minister. Hell, they’d probably find some way to pin it on Najib too.
So, it’s rich for the lot of them to say that Tanjung Bungah tragedy shouldn’t be ‘politicized’. They should be subject to their own standards. Yes, we should ask why expert assessments were ignored. Yes, we should ask why concerned citizens were dismissed and their pleas not heeded. And yes, we should ask whether DAP puts people first, or developers first.
“What we need is a ‘wakil rakyat’ who listens to us the ‘rakyat’ (people), not ‘wakil pemaju’ who listens to them (developers),” said Meenakshi, according to the New Straits Times.
Well? Is DAP still the Democratic Action Party? Or have heady years in power morphed it into the Developers Action Party? What we know so far speaks for itself.