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Tanjung Bungah construction site tragedy: Interim actions were taken, now let the Commission of Inquiry do its work

A horrible tragedy has happened.

In the morning of 21 October 2017, a landslide occurred in a housing construction site in Tanjung Bungah. 11 precious lives were lost.

The blame game began almost immediately. State opposition parties took to newspaper and social media to attack the Penang state government.

Some even went on an “I-told-you-so” mode, making all sorts of wild allegations and claims.

Some of our friends from the civil society were also, understandably, angered by the tragedy and demanded answers from the state government.

How did the Penang state government react to the incident?

Quick and decisive disaster response

The incident took place about 9am.

Firstly, as soon as the incident happened, the local Member of Parliament Zairil Khir Johari, assemblyman Teh Yee Cheau, city councillors and state government officials were already at the site. The site was immediately secured for search and rescue mission. It was important that the rescue team be given the space to start their work without any delay. Appreciation must be given to the rescue team from various departments, from Bomba to police to the civil defence force and others for their relentless effort in the search and rescue work.

Secondly, elected representatives and state officials were present to ensure that families of victims were given the fullest support possible, from personal counselling to facilitating official procedures in the hospital. The Chief Minister of Penang himself was at the site within hours of the tragedy and took a personal interest on the whole situation from the start.

Thirdly, the Mayor of Penang City Hall (Dewan Bandaraya Pulau Pinang) Maimunah Sharif, who was herself present at the site in the early hours, immediately issued stop work order on the developer. Project consultants and contractors were also blacklisted pending further investigation.

Fourthly, the local authorities were instructed to check on all construction sites in the state to ensure that health and safety regulations were complied to.

Finally, within hours after the tragedy, the Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng, announced that a Governor’s Commission of Inquiry will be established under S(2)(3)(d) and 3(1) of the Commissions of Enquiry Act 1950 to thoroughly investigate the incident and take the sternest action against those responsible. In the past, in Penang, such Commissions consisted of prominent persons and acknowledged experts, including academicians on the subject matter under probe. The last Governor’s Commission of Inquiry was chaired by former Bar Council chairman, Yeoh Yang Poh.

These are all very quick and decisive actions needed in time of crisis.

Nothing to hide: Stating the facts is not shifting responsibility

The fact that Penang state government is committed to establish an independent expert Commission at the highest level demonstrates that it is not afraid of the truth.

We need to know the whole truth in order to give justice to the victims and their families, but also to prevent similar tragedy in the future.

Of course in times like this, there are a lot of information being shared around especially on social media. Some are truths, some half-truths, some outright lies. But what is frustrating is how the state opposition is using this tragedy for political gains.

When on the other hand the state government presented facts about the incident, our opponents were sly enough to accuse us of “playing the blame game”.

We need be clear here: Stating the facts is not shifting responsibility.

Presenting facts is important to determine the truth of the matter, and more importantly, we need to be clear what is the actual cause of the tragedy.

In times of crisis, more than ever, we need to know the truth. Penangites and Malaysians want to know the truth and it is the responsibility of the government to tell the truth.

Wrongdoers must pay severely for their actions and preventive measures must be implemented

Who then should be responsible? This is the task for the independent Governor’s Commission of Inquiry. Interim actions were already taken against those directly involved in the construction, i.e. the developer, the consultants and contractors, pending a full investigation. Order was also given to conduct a check on all other construction sites to ensure compliance of health and safety regulations.

This is not the time for politicking.

If the state government has not done the above – no quick and decisive disaster response, no interim actions against developer, no Commission of Inquiry – then bringing politics into the matter would be understandable. I am a federal opposition MP; when there is a crisis of similar scale at the federal level, I will definitely be pressuring the government to convene a Royal Commission of Enquiry (established under the same Act as the Governor’s Commission of Inquiry) to investigate the matter.

Yet, to give bullets to a bullying federal regime who is not interested in the truth, but only to profit politically from the tragedy, does not help this case at all. We must be able to sieve out genuine voices of concern from the exploitative noises of agitators bent on taking advantage of the situation.

A tragedy has happened, precious lives were lost, and beyond question, the wrongdoers in the Tanjung Bungah tragedy must be severely punished. Justice must be seen to be done and preventive measures must be implemented so that there will not be a repeat of such tragedy.

But we can only pursue justice and deal with the cause when proper investigation is first done. Let the Commission of Inquiry do its work. And do not forget, police and MACC (Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission) reports were also lodged; there will be investigations from these bodies as well. To paraphrase my colleague, Zairil Khir Johari, no stones will be left unturned in this issue.

Steven Sim Chee Keong
Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam

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