Thursday, April 17, 2008

What does it take for us to pay more attention to our Environment?(2)

I reported about the residents of Ampang Hills, specifically residents from Taman Hijau, Taman TAR, Ukay Heights, and those affected by the proposed development of the hill coming together last Saturday to voice their concerns to their members of Parliament and Selangor State Council Chairman for Environment. Today, they took time off work to meet with the local council (Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya) and developer at the local public hearing.
Chaired by Selangor State Executive Councillor for Local Governments YB Ronnie Liu, most departments were on hand to provide answers to the residents. At least, that was what it was planned for. One by one, the residents took to the microphones voicing their concerns, ranging from the soil instability to traffic issues, as well as the much required planning permission.
Although no technical documents were made available to those protesting, it was understood that MPAJ had in fact allowed the developer MAA Assurance, to place two information kiosk, believed to have also contained copies of relevant technical details.
The Department of Environment's technical representative present (name unknown, as it was not provided) also made a rather surprising statement. He said, to the astonishment of most present, that a detailed Environmental Impact study is only required for land development projects greater than 50 Hectares. As the proposed development stands at around 25 hectares, it seems by law the Detailed Environmental Impact study can be dispensed away. Surprisingly, given the instability of the surrounding area, the Director of DOE had also allowed this oversight, which is upheld by law, and further chose not to invoke his authority in demanding a detailed study.
If one chooses to follow the letter of the law, then I suppose, we can just bulldoze the hill.
Rightfully as pointed out by one of the residents involved, the very tragedy of the Highland Towers had all been forgotten. One person who chose to be heard was none other than Dr Benjamin George. He is still the president of the Highland Towers Residents committee.
Dr George who lost his family and friends in the 1993 tragedy gave an insight to the results of the long standing legal battle. The Highland Towers committee was taken to court by the MPAJ and lost cost of the matter, and they were made to pay cost of Rm1.5 million.
(Part of the judgement "As a local authority, the 4th defendant (MPAJ) owes a duty of care to the plaintiffs to use reasonable care, skill and diligence to ensure that the hill slope and the drainage was properly accommodated before approving building or other related plans, and during construction stage, to comply with and to ensure the implementation of drainage system. Then when CFs were applied for, there should be proper and thorough inspection on whether the buildings so built were safe in all aspect and not just confine only to the structure. And after the Highland Towers was erected, to ascertain drainage requirement in the area was adequate to ensure slope stability behind Block 1. Then subsequent to the collapse of Block 1, measures should have been taken to prevent recurrence of the tragedy to Block 2 & 3.")
Dr Benjamin made his protest on the grounds that a tragedy like the one that he had experienced must not be permitted to happen again, which there is a possibility of, if development of the very hill that caused the collapse of the Highland Towers block be allowed.
He also appealed to the new state government to interject and possibly get MPAJ to refund the cost which his association.

Dato' Abdul Aziz, the President of the Taman Hijau RA also cited the soil composition of the surrounding area, and on those grounds asked for the detailed soil study documents be produced. Prior to today's meeting, it seems the only documents provided to the RA's were insufficient. On the subject of detailed reports, and documents, YB Elizabeth Wong in her position as Chair for Environment of the Selangor State Exco, assured all that if at all any documents were classified as State Secrets, she will bring the matter up to the Menteri Besar in order to declassify the documents so that all involved will be given fair access to it.
Perhaps the most glaring issue is that almost all present in the room was uncomfortable with the mammoth development of the hill, what more given the regular soil movement that had caused many landslides, both major and minor.

At the hearing, after the protestations of the residents, MPAJ and relevant representatives from those supporting the development were given the opportunity to answer to the queries.
IKRAM gave their stand and highlighted that IKRAM is a bipartisan body that focuses on the studies that are independently produced, and from there make recommendations.
However, the only reference that I could get through the net was the corporate information of Ikram Sdn Bhd, which appears to me is a private entity, in the field of geotechnical surveying and consultancy. What IKRAM did state was that they received 3 seperate geotechnical reports from independent companies, which the developers had hired. What the law says about this, I am not sure, but it does appear that the developer did appoint these independent surveyors, and if so, how truly independent were they in discharging their duties?

In all honesty, the Local council did follow their by laws, and if so, they did in fact follow the laid down letter of the law. As for the developers, we can only assume that they did so too.
And if that is the case, where then will these residents bring their complaints to?
A senior resident, a Dato'Sri (presumably a retired law enforcer) was close to tears in stating the obvious, having to fight the council and developers in order for him to enjoy the golden years of his life, despite serving the country and having risked his life, he was clearly beyond words that actions like these have brought him to the front again, albeit in different circumstances.

MAA's Mr Tan Thean Eng then took to the stand in saying that MAA was the rightful land owner and because of economic reasons, his company do have the right to exercise theirs, in developing their land, and added that they have complied with every letter of the law.
Attempts to show those present computer aided models via the computer encountered some technical errors resulting in a poorly projected video. Mr Tan in his efforts to protect his company's interest also made a surprising remark, that the Residents who first cited safety as their concern (fear of landslides) have also now resorted to claiming protection of the green lung.
Mr Tan then added that the 'protection of Green Lung' is not the priority of MAA, as they purely see it as a project, in order for them to recover the RM290 million already spent on the project. He also made a public offer that the immediate solution to the problem is for someone to purchase the hill in question from MAA.

Protection and security in the eyes of those staying there remains as one intertwined issue which both the developer and the local council must see to. It seems for now, all the residents want is a careful consideration of all aspects as well as the solution that all can be happy about.
It has to be, given that they agreed to the immediate formation of a task force which is to include members of the council as well as technical bodies in hope that they can all come to an amicable solution ahead of the appeal tribunal, which if a decision is taken, can only be stopped by the courts.
Tengku Mahani in her capacity as the coordinator for the residents association in the newly formed task force , had expressed that all documents that were requested before had never been given to the resident associations what more communication from the various departments involved in the approval process. As such they will take the opportunity to study these documents carefully before replying. The formation of the task force as suggested by YB Ronnie is a step forward in trying to look for a settlement.

Also made known was an apparent conversation between a member of the development company to a friend of a Resident "don't worry about landslides after this, we will cut away with all the slopes!". Said in jest or not, it is indeed worrying if all developers think like this.

Read here for related approved development by the MPAJ that affected residents

save Ukay Heights has their own blog, and through their links, learn more about how other residents are facing uphill fights with their local council to save their environment

And here to fore more related news and issues surrounding Bukit Antarabangsa

Malay Mail carried this
(Photos will follow once technical errors are corrected)

No comments: