The Nut Graph

By Elizabeth Looi

PETALING JAYA, 10 Dec 2008: In light of the latest landslide tragedy at Bukit Antarabangsa in Ampang, the Bar Council has set up a task force to monitor hillslope developments.

Task force chairperson Roger Tan said they would find solutions and offer suggestions to the government on legislation, which would be similar to the ones in Hong Kong.

(Image courtesy of Bar Council)

“So many of its (Hong Kong) high-rise buildings are built on hillslopes but a tragedy like Highland Towers is almost unheard of,” he told The Nut Graph in a phone interview.

Tan added he could only think of two possible reasons why there were no hillslope development tragedies in Hong Kong.

“One, they have a responsible, incorrupt public authority which administers such laws.

“Two, there is strict enforcement of such laws and this includes going after not only errant developers, but also the (responsible) architects and engineers,” he said.

He also said the task force would look at similar legislation in other countries to see if such laws should be adopted in Malaysia.

Tan, who is currently in Brisbane, said urban planning laywer Derek Fernandez would be helping him with the task force.

Fernandez, who is also a Petaling Jaya city councillor, has been fighting for residents protesting against development on the Bukit Gasing hillslope.

Tan plans to recruit architects from the Malaysian Institute of Architects, engineers from the Institution of Engineers and non-governmental organisations who can lend their expertise.

He also said he would speak to Real Estate and Housing Developers Association chairperson Datuk Ng Seing Liong but the task force would need more professionals than developers as they would be looking at the inadequacies of current laws.

“I wish to stress that the intention of the task force is to proffer ideas on how we can avoid a recurrence of such a tragedy.

“It is one of the statutory objects of the Bar to assist any party, including the government, on the effectiveness of any piece of legislation.

“Of course, should the government decide later that a public inquiry be held, my committee and I would be more than pleased to render the necessary assistance,” explained Tan.

Tan, who also chaired the Bar Council’s environment committee, said he agreed with the Malaysian Bar president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan’s call for the repeal of Section 95 of the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974.

“This is the problem when the law and judiciary try to insulate public authorities from acts of negligence,” he said.

In a statement yesterday, Ambiga had urged the government to repeal the statutory immunity enjoyed by local authorities and their officers that was provided by the act.

She also called for an immediate public inquiry to investigate the Bukit Antarabangsa tragedy and make recommendations for further action.

Ambiga also said there should be an immediate freeze on all proposed or ongoing hillslope projects and on projects on Class 3 and 4 slopes as implemented by the Selangor government in April 2008.

There must also be public safety announcements on all high-risk areas to advise land-owners and residents, while the National Physical Planning Council should issue immediate directives in relation to planning and hillslope protection, said Ambiga