Is Nga too inexperienced or superficial to be effective as a cabinet minister?

Letter to editor

ON Dec 16 last year, 31 people perished in the Batang Kali landslide and another 61 victims suffered various forms of injury.

In its investigation report, the Natural Disaster Management Agency’s (NADMA) claimed that this is “one of the deadliest disasters in the country”.

Nearly after one year, Local Government Development Minister Nga Kor Ming’s attempt to close the chapter appears superficial, earning him brickbats from the Malaysian Association of Abandoned Building Owners (Victims Malaysia) chairman Dr Mohamed Rafick Khan Andul Rahman who questioned the forensic report.

As a minister, the Teluk Intan MP should ask critical questions, consult experts in geotechnics and environmentalists who have volunteered their expertise.

Quoting Rafick, even Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng (who is Nga’s DAP comrade) claimed that the report is “incomplete and can be misleading”.

Families of victims and Lip Eng are now urging the government to set up an independent Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to determine the root of the problem with the objective “that lessons can be learnt from the incident and similar incidents will not happen again”.

Superficial and Lack Accountability

Nga’s handling of the tragedy is far from being satisfactory and does not bode with the Madani government’s push for reforms. One would expect the minister to satisfy himself with the contents of the probe first before releasing the report.

Nga Kor Ming visiting the Batang Kali landslide site on Dec 16 last year

Perhaps, this is due to his inexperience as a minister but the public expect answers and assurances that no stones have been left unturned to get to the root cause of the landslide.

One of the biggest blunders that Nga made was when he merely regurgitated what the Hulu Langat Council told him that the three campsites were unlicensed.

A camping license was non-existent in the first place until after the ministry’s Camping Site Planning Guidelines were developed in the aftermath.

As a minister, Nga should not have played the blame game but instead asked why the authority closed one eye on them if these campsites were operating illegally. Was anyone on the take?

After all, even if the campsites were licensed and a landslide were to happen, would anyone survive the tragedy? The root cause of the landslide should therefore have been the major focus.

Instead of blaming the rain or the finger of God – something which the late Tun Samy Vellu was fond of saying – slopes around the country require a more vigilant monitoring by the authorities to prevent another landslide, especially since we know we are experiencing climate change.

Nevertheless, one good initiative that Nga has undertaken – and credit must be given to him – is his directive to “all 155 local authorities nationwide to clear all campsites near rivers for seven days effective immediately”.

Thorough probe of root cause

However, as pointed out by geographer and honorary associate professor at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Dr Teckwyn Lim, the forensic report failed to tackle the root cause of the landslide. “The terms of reference of the report and its objectives were really narrow,” he chided.

With a tinge of cynicism, Teckwyn remarked, “yes, there were ’no human activities’ above the campsite. But, the Public Works Department (JKR) built a road through the forest reserve, didn’t they? Now they expect us to believe the road is not ‘anthropogenic’ in origin (pollution or environmental change originating in human activity). JKR tries to blame it on the rain.”

Satellite image taken back in December 2021 suggests some land clearing activities being carried out which could have led to the landslide
This is the area affected by the landslide

In this regard, Teckwyn suspected that JKR was the party that built terraces above and below the road as part of a maintenance exercise. “I also suspect that the drainage on the lower terraces was not maintained. These terraces were swept away during the landslide,” he continued. “To me, this would be a key contributing factor to the landslide.”

If his arguments hold water, NADMA’s finding is truly troubling as it had concluded that there were “no substantial evidence linking specific human activities to the landslide”.  NADMA claimed that the landslide was due to “natural failure.”

Waiting for another disaster to happen

There are already too many guidelines, laws and licenses required but what is sheer lacking is the monitoring of slopes, delivery of service by local councils and its enforcement.

The minister and the local authorities should have been more proactive in preventing another tragedy from happening.

Perhaps, Nga would like to go back to the drawing board and get to the bottom of things before closing the chapter on the Batang Kali incident to prevent a recurrence? Otherwise, the 31 people who lost their lives, had died in vain – Oct 24, 2023

Stephen Ng
Kuala Lumpur

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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