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Bukit Antarabangsa: A govt must do what is right and not what is popular December 9, 2008

Posted by elizabethwong in Economy, Environment, Malaysia.
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One of the earliest policy announced by the new Selangor State Government after the March 8 General Election was to ban any development on Class 3 and Class 4 hill slopes. This would mean that no development could be carried out on hill slopes 26 degrees and above.

This decision was heavily criticised by the developers and their association. The state government was accused to be hostile to development. Citing that land is already scarce in Selangor, the developers argued that there would be no more land to be developed in a few years time.

However, the recent tragedy in Bukit Antarabangsa had silenced these critics but with four deaths and thousands displaced, it is inappropriate for the state government to brag that they are correct to impose the ban. A government should do what is right and not what is going to be popular.

The same thing goes for the current crisis in Bukit Antarabangsa. The experts have announced that almost 2,000 people need to be evacuated as their homes are unsafe. If further reports confirmed that these homes could never be made safe then a decision on the future of Bukit Antarabangsa must be made. Even if this would mean demolishing these homes or closing down certain parts of Bukit Antarabangsa, the state government must do what is right and not what is popular with the people.

Allowing the people to move back into their homes and announcing that they are safe would be very popular but what is the point if this tragedy would repeat itself in the future?

Ministers, deputy ministers and VIP’s would visit the site, make sympathetic statements and pose for the cameras but at the end of the day, the state government, the Menteri Besar and Excos, would be burdened with the decision making. The people should brace themselves for the worst as this decision would be based on the safety of the people and not on the winning of elections.

Iskandar Abdul Samad
Selangor State Exco for Housing, Building Management & Squatters
8 December 2008

Bukit Antarabangsa landslide: Bitter vindication December 7, 2008

Posted by elizabethwong in "We can do better", Economy, Environment, Malaysia.
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One of the earliest policy decision made by the new Selangor state govt of Pakatan Rakyat was to throw out any housing and building applications on Class 3 and Class 4 hillslopes, in order to preserve environmentally sensitive areas and prevent the recurrence of landslides. This was decided on April 2, 2008 Executive Council meeting.

Selangor became the first and only state in the Federation to have complied with the Federal Town and Country Planning Department’s “Total Planning Guidelines” 1997 (2nd edition, 2001) which states that no housing development should be allowed on 25 degrees and above gradient slopes. 

Developers thought it was a late April Fool’s joke. Since our ban, they have used all means – the media, blogs, lobbying of ADUNs and MPs etc. to change of our minds. We were labelled and villified as “anti-business” and “anti-development”. I have even had some of our Pakatan MPs asking us to make exceptions for Class 3.

I was told they particularly disliked me and called me “lan-si” (very ‘action‘) just because during a public meeting of developers, NGOs, residents and the Exco, one of the key developers questioned how could the state government stop hillslope development, and I answered, “Because we can…”. And none were too happy when I had to repeatedly and literally wave the ‘Total Planning Guidelines” book at them. 

And every couple of months, we have to repeat our policy decision again. Even as recent as last month, developers were insisting that they had theright to develop hillslopes and some had told a couple of ExCo members that they were planning to sue us. One of them said we would have to compensate them RM 330 million (25% of our state budget) of possible loss of profits. Imagine the pressure of a lobby group whose combined income and assets dwarfs the state government. 

Saturday’s tragedy proves the correctness of the decision of the state government. But vindication which comes after loss of 4 lives and more homes is unspeakably bitter. There are some 5,000 residents living within the vicinity of the landslide who face uncertainty and possibly have to vacate their houses.

We ask that developers to stop pursuing and pressuring us to review our policy, and instead they should be thoroughly go through every single technicality of their existing hillslope projects.

While Ikram and Public Works department will be charged to pinpoint the cause of the tragedy on Saturday, the state government will immediately review all approved hillslope projects by the previous administration, standing or partially constructed.

Those, which there is no construction yet but approved previously prior to March 8, 2008, should not be allowed to proceed, especially along the same range of Bukit Antarabangsa and Ulu Kelang – which should include Taman Hijau and Bukit Melawati. 

We had come too late. Many of the hillslope projects have already been standing for a number of years, some were half completed when we came into power. Without proper maintenance of slopes and drainage on these private lands, tragedy will strike after many years, always after the period of indemnity is over. 

Those areas which are shown to be prone to landslides such as in Ulu Kelang which as far back as 2005, the Public Works Department had already flashed its red card, more stringent conditions will be imposed on already existing housing projects. 

All developers and private land owners have to protect and reinforce their own hillslopes if they want to continue to prosper, own property and do business in Selangor. We have recently received complaints from Ampang, Kajang, Cheras and Pandan where private land owners and developers have neglected to protect their hilslopes and there are already signs of wear and tear. Some put plastic sheets and some said they were bankrupt, those they don’t have to funds to repair their slopes. Whatever. If they do not do the necessary, we will blacklist them in the state and beyond. 

We ask that ‘People’ be put ahead of ‘Profits’.

We heartened that finally, after 8 months of battling the housing industryalone, that the Federal Government has come on to our side to give Selangor, both the moral and policy support it needs, with both the PM and DPM calling for all hillslope development permits nationwide to be cancelled.

We can only hope Federal government doesn’t forget after 3, 4 months, December 6, 2008 will not be forgotten – like what had happened in 1993 (Highland Towers), 2002 (Tmn Hillview) and 2006 (Kg Pasir – which was less than a km away from Saturday’s landslide) and the lives lost, both yesterday and in the past will not be in vain.