The Malaysian Insider

By Shannon Teoh

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 — The emergency motion on Saturday’s Bukit Antarabangsa landslide raised more questions than answers as lawmakers could not agree on who should be held responsible for the incident.

However, it appears that the immunity of local authorities which also took centre stage in the 1993 Highland Towers tragedy, will also be a source of controversy this time around.

A day short of the 15th anniversary of the landslide that claimed 48 lives, Azmin Ali, (PKR-Gombak) who is also the assemblyman for Bukit Antarabangsa, asked to know who is responsible.

“In 2001, the Housing and Local Government ministry released guidelines on total planning. But they have not been taken into account when projects are approved.

“In my constituency, there have been nine hillside projects, approved in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Who is responsible for approving these projects when the ministry guidelines prohibited projects on slopes of more than 25 degree incline?” he said.

The PKR vice president then called for those responsible to be charged and tried in court.

In his reply, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan said that a committee has been mobilised to investigate the landslide which has claimed at least four lives and destroyed 15 homes.

“Let the investigations conclude,” he replied.

Bagan MP Lim Guan Eng had also called for Section 95(2) of the Street Drainage and Building Act 1974 which also granted legal immunity to the local council in the Highland Towers tragedy, to be repealed as it would also see the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council getting away scot-free in this case.

The Federal Court unanimously decided on Feb 17, 2006 that the local council was protected against legal action even though they were found to be negligent and partly responsible for the collapse of the Highland Towers.

In a press conference after the hour-long debate, Ong admitted that there was no solution to reprimand errant local authorities if they did not comply with the seven acts, two bylaws, nine state enactments and nine ministry guidelines that concern highland developments.

“They are autonomous and this right is enshrined in the state constitutions,” he said.

Earlier, Azmin had also pressed him to state whether the government had a risk map of the area after Ong had evaded numerous inquiries from the opposition.

“We only have 30 seconds left. Just tell us, does the federal government have a risk map of the area? Thirty seconds from now,” he said.

Ong instead, continued to wind-up his speech.

He told reporters later that the government had in fact, ordered the Works Ministry to prepare such a study in Hulu Kelang, where Bukit Antarabangsa is located, which will be completed in 2009.

“The hazard assessment on hillside risk will identify high risk areas and we will introduce an early warning system,” he said.

During the debate, all three Barisan Nasional MPs who spoke had blamed natural causes for the landslide.

In another press conference, Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim (PKR-Bandar Tun Razak) appeared to concede this point as he told reporters that studies had to be continuously done on risk areas as soil was dynamic.

“After living there for 20 years, you might think it is safe but the slide will happen naturally and we need to monitor continuously,” he said.

He said that as far as the state government was concerned, any ongoing or future development that did not comply with guidelines would halted.