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Tg Bungah tragedy: Let state inquiry commission do its work

Steven Sim  |  Published:  |  Modified:

MP SPEAKS | A horrible tragedy has taken place. On the morning of Oct 21, 2017, a landslide occurred at a housing construction site in Tanjung Bungah and 11 precious lives were lost.

The blame game began almost immediately. State opposition parties took to newspapers and social media to attack the Penang state government. Some even went into an “I told you so” mode, making all sorts of wild allegations and claims.

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

But how did the Penang government react to the incident?

Decisive disaster response

The incident took place about 9am on Saturday, Oct 21, 2017.

Soon after, Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari, Tanjung Bungah assemblyperson Teh Yee Cheu, city councillors and state government officials were at the site.

The site was immediately secured for the 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 comprising personnel from various departments, including fire and rescue, police, civil defence and others, for their relentless efforts.

Elected representatives and state officials were present to ensure that families of the victims were given the fullest support possible, from providing personal counselling to facilitating procedures at the hospital.

The chief minister was at the site within hours of the tragedy and took a personal interest in the whole situation from the start.

The mayor of Penang Island City Council Maimunah Sharif (photo), also present at the site soon after the tragedy struck, issued an immediate stop work order to the developer. Project consultants and contractors were blacklisted pending further investigation.

Local authorities were instructed to check on all construction sites in the state to ensure that health and safety regulations were being complied with.

Within a matter of hours, the chief minister 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 investigate the incident and take action against those responsible.

In Penang, such commissions have historically consisted of prominent persons and acknowledged experts, including academicians on the subject matter under probe. The last Governor’s Commission of Inquiry, for instance, was chaired by the former Bar Council chairperson, Yeo Yang Poh.

Stating facts is not shifting responsibility

The fact that the Penang government is committed to establishing an independent expert commission 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 tragedies in the future.

Of course, in times like this, there is a lot of information being spread, 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 gain.

When the state government presented the facts of the incident, the opponents were sly enough to accuse the state of “playing the blame game”.

But we need to be clear: stating the facts is not shifting responsibility.

Facts are important to determine the truth of the matter. In times of crisis, the truth takes on greater importance. Penangites and Malaysians want to know the truth, and it is the responsibility of the government to tell the truth.

The guilty must pay

Who then should be responsible? Ascertaining this is the task of the independent Governor’s Commission of Inquiry.

As noted above, interim actions were already taken against those directly involved in the construction, i.e., the developer, consultants and contractors. Orders were also issued for health and safety inspections at other sites.

This is not the time for politicking.

If the state government had not done the above – no disaster response, no interim actions, no Commission of Inquiry – then bringing politics into the matter would be understandable.

I am a federal opposition MP. If there is a crisis of similar magnitude at the federal level, I will be among those pressuring the government to convene a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate the matter.

But in this case, it is not helpful to provide ammunition to a bullying federal regime that is not interested in the truth, as much as it is in profiting politically from the tragedy.

We must be able to sieve out genuine voices of concern from the exploitative noises of agitators hell-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 punished severely.

Justice must be seen to be done and preventive measures must be implemented so that there will not be a repeat of last Saturday’s tragedy.

But we can only pursue justice and deal with the cause when proper investigations have been carried out. Let the Commission of Inquiry do its work. And don't forget, police and MACC reports have also been lodged.

To paraphrase my colleague, Zairil, no stone will be left unturned.

STEVEN SIM is Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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