Speech by Lim Kit Siang in Parliament on the urgent, definite, public importance motion on the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide disaster on Wednesday, 10th December 2008: 

Bukit Antarabangsa landslide disaster killing five, displacing 5,000 and burying 14 bungalows testimony that 48 who died in the Highland Towers Collapse tragedy had died in vain 15 years ago as the lessons had not been learnt  

The Bukit Antarabangsa landslide disaster on Saturday, 6th December 2008, claiming five lives and dislocating 5,000 people after destroying 14 bungalows, is sheer criminal negligence after the Highland Towers tragedy 15 years ago on Friday, 11th December 1993.

It is sad and shocking testimony that the 48 who died in the Highland Towers tragedy 15 years ago had died in vain as the lessons had not been learnt by the relevant government authorities and parties.

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi blamed developers and buyers when he lamented:

“Malaysians never want to learn from past experiences. They want good views while developers only seek to profit; but no one takes safety and soil stability into consideration”.

Conspicuously absent from Abdullah’s blame list are the various government agencies and authorities who should be even more culpable in giving approvals or closing an eye to dangerous hillside developments and in totally ignoring the lessons of the Highland Towers tragedy 15 years ago.

Subconsciously admitting that it was indefensible to exonerate the government from responsibility for the criminal negligence resulting in the Bukit Antarabangsa disaster, Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek complained that it was not fair to slam the Government for failing to act every time a disaster happens.

“It is unfair to say the Government did not act. We cannot put the blame on just one authority. After all, you need two to tango, but this time there are three – the government, the developers and buyers.”

But the real unfairness is the government’s shirking of responsibility, and this was why when the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council Inquiry Report into the Highland Tower Tragedy was made public in June 1994, putting the blame solely on the developer, the Highland Towers victims were incensed at the exoneration of responsibility by the various government authorities, in particular the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council.
I am shocked that the Housing and Local Government Minister, Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan, who had been missing for the past four days of the disaster, has surfaced today to rule out human negligence as the cause of the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide disaster and to declare natural causes as the probable factor.
Ong should not be a second Samy Vellu with excuses of “acts of God”.
This attitude of government immunity and impunity for sheer criminal negligence has continued unchanged in the past 15 years from the Highland Towers Tragedy to the Bukit Antarabangsa disaster, and will ensure not only the 48 who died 15 years but the five who perished last Saturday would have died in vain as nothing would have been learnt from these man-made disasters with future hillslope disasters waiting to happen with more victims.

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.”

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.

Finally, there should be full and independent inquiry into the serious complaints by Bukit Antarabangsa victims about some irresponsible members of the search and rescue (SAR) operations team, in particular, the shocking complaint by the husband of accountant Eng Yee Peng, who died in the landslide at Bukit Mewah in Bukit Antarabangsa on Saturday, who alleged that when he sought help from the rescue team to save his wife who was still alive, he was given a hoe and asked to dig and find his wife on his own.

I believe the majority SAR members are responsible and honest but the handful of black sheep who were callous and inhuman must be ferreted out to face the full force of the law.

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