There are both good and bad points to note about the latest developments on the Tanjong Subsidence Disaster since my last visit to the affected Inner Georgetown areas two weeks ago.
What is good is that there appears to be a sea-change in the attitude of the authorities concerned with regard to the cracking walls and sinking pavements affecting hundreds of houses and thousands of people in Inner Georgetown as a result of the Prangin Mall project excavation works - as previously the official attitude, whether at municipal or state level, was one of indifference, trying to minimise the damages caused by the excavation works and even an attempt by some quarters to “cover up” the seriousness of the whole issue.
What is bad is that the subsidence of the buildings in the inner Georgetown area, causing walls to crack, pavements to sink and beams and pillars to go out of joint, had worsened in the past two weeks despite the “Stop Work” order issued by the Penang Municipal Council (MPPP) on the Prangin Mall project on January 31.
What is worse, the number of houses and people affected by the Tanjong subsidence disaster is now expected to double the figure originally estimated.
Until recently, the area which had been the focus of attention with regard to the damages caused by the subsidence triggered off by the Prangin Mall excavations were the 150 houses involving some 2,000 people in the Kampong Kolam constituency.
It has now come to light however that the Pengkalan Kota constituency is also seriously affected where another 150 houses and 2,000 have been estimated to be involved. The damages to the Pengkalan Kota houses is as serious as the damages to the houses in Kampong Kolam - and I could put my hand up to my elbow into the crack!
This is clearly a disaster - a man-made disaster. What is so tragic about this man-made disaster is that it could have been completely avoided if the MPPP and the Penang State Government had been more responsive to the complaints of the people in the past four months and had acted with responsibility to protect the rights and interests of the residents concerned.
In the Kampong Kolam section of the Tanjong Subsidence Disaster, seven houses had cracked by late September. The number of cracked houses had increased to 10 by mid-October, 15-20 by mid-November, 30 by December 3, 35 by December 8, 49 by December 21, 62 by mid-January and 96 in early February.
The same story must be the same in the Pengkalan Kota section affected by the subsidence.
It is very clear therefore that the MPPP and the Penang State Government had more than ample time and opportunity to prevent such an avoidable man-made disaster from reaching its present proportion and magnitude and this is why the MPPP and the Penang State Government cannot shirk liaiblity for this man-made disaster.
Up to now, neither the Penang Chief Minister nor the MPPP President had explained why they had allowed the subsidence to escalate day by day, house by house, for some four months until some 300 houses involving 4,000 people are affected despite the repeated complaints and warnings by the people concerned!
I have been accused of causing losses to certain businesses during the Chinese New Year because of my proposal during my visit two weeks ago that the Government should declare the affected subsidence area a “disaster area”.
I apologise to business in Tanjong which have sufferred losses as a result of my proposal, for this had never been my intention.
However, I do not apologise for making the proposal. In fact, after today’s visit, I am even more strongly convinced that the Government should declare the affected area a “disaster area” so as to officially recognise the disaster which had befallen the unfortunate residents concerned, and to be able to mobilise all resources of the authorities, not only the MPPP and the Penang State Government, but that of the Federal Government as well, to rescue inner Georgetown from becoming a sinking city.
From what I have heard about the worsening of the cracks on the houses, and with the doubling of the number of houses and people affected by the subsidence caused by the Prangin Mall excavations, if it is not disaster which had hit the affected areas, I do not know the meaning of the word “disaster”.
Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon said yesterday that five families had moved out from five houses in Jalan Pintal Tali as a result of the subsidence caused by the Prangin Mall project as their houses were declared unsafe. This is another result of the disaster which had hit Tanjong.
In this connection, I must express great regret that some irresponsible people are going around trying to spread panic among the affected residents claiming that if the subsidence areas are declared “disaster zones”, the area concerned would be sealed off, the residents chased out of the area and businesses must cease operations.
This is not my meaning or definition of a “disaster area” with regard to the Tanjong subsidence disaster and I will be the first to raise objections if there is any such government plan to seal off the affected properties to disallow the people to continue to stay there or to do their business.
The purpose of the State Government declaring the affected areas “disaster zone” must be clearly spelt out - to recognise that a disaster had befallen the properties and people in the localities concerned and who deserve the full attention and support of the authorities to resolve the multitude of problems that have ensued.
At this moment when some 300 houses and 4,000 people are going through daily emotional distress and psychological agony in suddenly finding that the foundations of their homes, businesses, family life and livelihood are in jeopardy because of an avoidable man-made disaster, it is most irresponsible for any person to fan panic for their selfish personal ends.
As an immediate measure, the MPPP and the Penang State Government should issue a daily bulletin on the Tanjong Subsidence Disaster to inform the affected residents of the measures which they are taking to resolve their problems.
Up to now, the MPPP had ignored the subsidence and structural defects to the buildings in the Pengkalan Kota area, and the MPPP should immediately send teams to the area to carry out remedial and monitoring work.
Secondly, the Penang State Assembly should convene an emergency meeting on the Tanjong Subsidence Disaster.
Thirdly, the MPPP should call a full Council meeting inviting the representatives of the various resident committees of the houses damaged by the subsidence caused by the Prangin Mall excavations for a full dialogue.