Media Statement (2) by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Monday, 8th December 2008: 

Government reaction to Bukit Antarabangsa landslide disaster – too much resignation, too little outrage at the criminal negligence in failing to learn the lessons of the Highland Towers Collapse tragedy 15 years ago  

Starting with the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, there is too much resignation and too little outrage in the government reaction to the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide disaster and criminal negligence in failing to learn the lessons of the Highland Towers Collapse tragedy which had claimed 48 lives 15 years ago, resulting in the loss of another four lives on Saturday.

Apart from wringing their hands in despair and spouting the usual platitudes about a halt on hillslope development which no one believes in, there is even no political will to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry not only into the latest landslide disaster which killed four persons, injured 14, buried 14 bungalows and stranded 5,000 people, but also into the criminal negligence of the various parties involved – particular the federal, state and local government agencies – in failing to learn the lessons of the Highland Towers tragedy 15 years ago.

No wonder, Dr. Benjamin George, who survived the Highlands Tower disaster, was not convinced that things would get better when he said: “In three months, the tractors will start work again. I have survived long enough to see all this nonsense repeated.”

After the Highland Towers tragedy, I had proposed in Parliament the establishment of a mechanism like the Geotechnical Engineering Office (GEO) to investigate slopes for potential risks and to take preventive measures, to control the geotechnical aspects of new buildings and civil engineering works, to promote slope maintenance by owners, to undertake landslide warnings and emergency services and to advise on land-use plans to minimise public risks.

Affected Bukit Antarabangsa residents are entitled to ask why several tell-tale signs of impending landslides days and even weeks before Saturday’s landslide disaster had not been acted upon by the authorities to issue landslide warnings, especially as a geological firm had been awarded a RM1.6 million contract to “solely monitor the geological conditions” in Bukit Antarabangsa area, including earth movements.

Residents refer to a landslide which cut off a portion of the Jalan Bukit Antarabangsa main road just six days earlier, while a landslide victim, businessman Hassan Saad, 49, claimed that he had notified the relevant authorities about fallen trees and earth movements close to his home in Taman Bukit Mewah in October but his complaints were not taken seriously by the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ).

There can be no two ways about it – there should be a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide disaster with a three-prong terms of reference:

• firstly, to inquire into the circumstances and causes of Saturday’s Bukit Antarabangsa landslide tragedy;

• secondly a larger mandate to inquire whether and why the Federal, state and local government agencies have not learned the lessons of the Highland Towers tragedy 15 years ago, specifically for Bukit Antarabangsa but even further afield; and

• thirdly, why other countries like Hong Kong could end landslides by ensuring hillslope safety despite development.

When I visited Bukit Antaarabangsa disaster site yesterday, I had asked where was the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Datuk Ong Ka Chua, who had not shown up or expressed any concern more than 24 hours after the landslide disaster.

It was a few hours after my public query that the Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister, Robert Lau, showed up at the site claiming that he was making the visit on behalf of the Minister.

But what was more intriguing was the explanation by Ong’s press secretary that the Minister had left the country on Friday, a day before the landslide disaster, and that the Ministry staff had difficulty communicating with Ong.

As this clarification was made by Ong’s press secretary after the site visit of several DAP MPs yesterday, where did Ong fly to that he could not be contacted after some 48 hours – in a world when one can fly to the end of the world in 24 hours?

Finally, will Ong appear in Parliament on Wednesday to announce the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide disaster?

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor