NRE’s empty statement continues to ignore facts

Weekend productivity at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) has been unusually high as they have for the second Sunday in a row issued a politically tinged statement against the Penang state government.

In a statement released yesterday, the NRE has responded directly to me on the issue of the Tanjung Bungah construction site tragedy. Although claiming to be unbiased and “not interested in politicising” the accident that took place on 21 October, the statement is clearly a thinly veiled attempt to lay the blame at the feet of the Penang state government.

Unsurprisingly, the communiqué is a clumsy attempt to skirt around the issue, merely repeating previous accusations without providing substantive points and completely devoid of any counter arguments to the facts I have previously highlighted.

Procedures were followed

Firstly, the NRE completely fails to address the unsubstantiated accusation made in their statement on 22 October which alleges that the Department of Environment’s (DOE) objection to the affordable housing project in question was due to, inter alia, “steep slopes” that “requires a detailed engineering study”.

As I have pointed out, this concern on slope stability is nowhere to be found in the DOE’s actual objection letter to the local authority, which merely states that the department was unable to support the development due to its proximity to a nearby granite quarry. Therefore, for the NRE to claim otherwise is nothing short of disingenuous.

Now, the NRE suggests that the loss of lives in the tragedy could have been “avoided if the state government had adhered to the advice of the relevant agencies and prevailing rules and guidelines”. I am perplexed by what the NRE is trying to imply, because as I have previously explained, the state authorities had indeed approved the project precisely based on the advice of the relevant agencies.

I find it bemusing that the NRE has chosen to completely skirt around the fact that the actual agency responsible for mining activities – quarrying included – as well as slope and soil stability, is in fact not the DOE but the Department of Minerals and Geoscience (DMG). And as I have pointed out repeatedly, the DMG had in fact given the green light to the project in their letter to the local authority dated 30 December 2014. In other words, the Penang state government had acted on the advice of the actual authority on quarries and hill slopes.

As the DMG is also an agency under the purview of the same ministry, I find it peculiar that the NRE chooses to ignore this important fact.

No double standards?

The NRE further claims that contrary to my “allegations”, the government does not practice double standards when it comes to public safety. Unlike the NRE, I never make assertions that I cannot prove. Unfortunately, they are unable to provide any evidence to back their claim.

If it is true that there are no double standards, then perhaps the NRE can enlighten Malaysians as to why there was no objection by the DOE to the Tunku Abdul Rahman College project, located adjacent to the accident site and just as close if not nearer to the quarry in question, when its development was approved by the previous state government.

At the same time, as my parliamentary colleagues from Sarawak have pointed out, residential developments have been allowed to be developed at Batu Tujuh and Batu Stigang in Kuching, both within 250 to 350 metres of the blasting site of two active quarries. Did the DOE object to those developments as well? If not, then the DOE is clearly inconsistent and selective in their decision-making.

Culprits will be held responsible

However, I do agree with the NRE when they suggested that the Penang state government should focus on providing the necessary assistance to the victims’ families, as well as bring to book the culprits responsible.

That is in fact exactly what the Penang state government is doing by establishing the State Commission of Inquiry chaired by former president of the Malaysian Bar Dato’ Yeo Yang Poh, along with two acclaimed geotechnical engineers Dato’ Dr Gue See Saw and Prof Dr Ramli Nasir as members. The Commission has been given a full mandate to determine not only the cause of the accident but also identify those responsible, no matter who they are.

Already, the state government has slapped the developer with a stop-work order while the professional consultants and contractor involved have been blacklisted pending the outcome of the Commission’s investigations. In addition, meeting minutes and official letters related to the project have been declassified in the name of transparency and public accountability.

The Penang state government has not shrugged off any responsibility in this incident, and continues to be committed to uncovering the truth and ensuring commensurate action is taken.

Zairil Khir Johari
Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera
Vice-Chairman, DAP Penang
DAP Assistant National Publicity Secretary

NB: This press statement was released on 30 October 2017 in Kuala Lumpur.

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