PENANG Works, Utilities and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari has denied allegations that complaints on Bukit Kukus that were sent to him were not attended.
“Allegations that complaints were not attended to are untrue. In fact, action was taken immediately in accordance to the existing guidelines and standard operating procedure (SOP),” Zairil told a press conference at his office today.
He was responding to a news report that quoted a non-governmental organisation (NGO) coordinator, who claimed that Zairil did not respond to the cases that were sent to him.
The news report stated that the NGO had worked to document hill clearing activities including Bukit Kukus. The NGO claimed to have sent a report with maps and ground level image to Zairil last month.
Zairil said his office received a report from the NGO on Sept 28, documenting concerns on various hill-clearing activities in Penang.
“The report was submitted to my office by Penang Island City Council (MBPP) councillor Dr Chee Heng Leng, the councillor from an NGO.
“My office reviewed the report and a reply was sent to Dr Chee via e-mail on Oct 4, thanking her for the report.
“The report raised some concerns about the conditions at the Bukit Kukus paired road project; specifically, about exposed slopes causing soil erosion, resulting in ‘heavy rainfall runoff causing flooding of mud-laden waters’. This was on page 26 of the report.
“As the state executive council member responsible for flood mitigation, I was concerned about these complaints as erosion and sedimentation would indeed cause bottlenecks in the rivers downstream, especially during the rainy season,” he said.
Zairil said that a special task force under the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Committee, codenamed Ops Lumpur, conducted a spot check on the Bukit Kukus construction site on Oct 8.
The Committee was chaired by Zairil.
“The remit of the task force was to check for compliance of the project’s Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plan (ESCP). The team was led by state Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) district engineer Nortilawati Osman.
“The task force found irregularities during their visit,” he said.
The irregularities mentioned at the press conference were – sedimentation pond, check dams and other components were not compliant with the approved ESCP, stockpiles were not maintained well and may affect the flow of Sungai Relau during heavy rain, hence, causing mud flood; a portion of topsoil was not covered with mulch or grass; open slopes were not covered with geotextile sheets; and absence of silt fences at the slopes.
“As per the SOP, the task force issued a letter to project consultant demanding that mitigation measures are taken within 14 days, failing which MBPP would be requested to take the appropriate action, including issuing a stop-work order,” Zairil said.
Nortilawati said the spot check was conducted near the highest point of the construction site.
“The area was huge. We conducted an overview observation of the project from the location near the highest point of the construction site at 54m.
“The observation was not near the location where the landslide had occurred. The project contractor also did not mention about the stream during our spot check,” she said.
On Oct 22, MBPP mayor Datuk Yew Tung Seang told reporters that he suspected that the stream flowing from atop the hill could be one of the main causes of the landslide.
Yew said that he spotted the stream, that was not properly diverted, during a hike up the hill a day after the landslide had occurred.
When questioned why the task force did not investigate the slope stability of the project, Zairil said that slope stability was not within the scope of the task force.
“The task force cannot act beyond their scope because they do not hat the expertise. The task force consists of DID engineers and not geo-technical engineers.
“The complaint sent to us was about mud flood, and the task force was sent to check on water flow and whatever (possibilities) that can cause mud flood.
“It was a spot check and we did not plan in advance. We also sent invitation to other agencies, but it was a last-minute spot check,” he added.
He said that the consultant engineer of the project is responsible for the entire project.
“When a consultant engineer ‘chopped and signed’, the engineer is responsible for the whole project including carrying out regular checks.
“Secondly, there is also an independent checker for that project (Bukit Kukus paired road).
“Were they doing their job?” he questioned.
He reiterated that the Penang government would not tolerate non-compliance.
“There is no excuse for non-compliance. The cause of the Bukit Kukus landslide must be uncovered, and a full investigation is underway. If there is evidence of professional negligence, then those responsible will be held accountable,” he said.
Also present at the press conference were Pulau Tikus assemblyman Chris Lee, state DID deputy director Saari Abdullah and senior assistant director Amphai Ee Bau.
Story by Christopher Tan
Pix by Noor Siti Nabilah Noorazis
Video by Alvie Cheng