Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon said yesterday that preliminary findings of the two Malaysia Public Works Institute (Ikram) teams had identified the RM200 million Prangin Mall project as the “most probable main cause” of the soil subsidence which has led to the cracks in over 300 houses in the surrounding area.
This is no new discovery to the people of Penang, in particular the 4,000-5,000 people in the Kampong Kolam and Pengkalan Kota areas next to the Prangin Mall project where over 300 houses had been structurally affected by the serious subsidence caused by the Prangin Mall project piling and excavations works - as there could simply be no other cause. In fact, it has come four months too late!
The Penang State Government and the MPPP should have commissioned geotechnical studies on the Prangin Mall project four months ago, when reports of cracks to walls and pavements to houses started occurring, which would have confined damages to 10 houses instead of the present figure of over 300 houses.
In the affected Kampong Kolam area, for instance, cracks started appearing in seven houses by the end of September last year, which increased to ten by mid-October. The number of cracked houses increased to about 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 cracks in the Pengkalan Kota area, which now affect another big area involving over 150 houses, started appearing only at the end of last year.
If the Penang State Government and the MPPP had responded to the complaints of the residents and commissioned geotechnical studies by mid-October, the Tanjong subsidence disaster would not have reached the magnitude as to affect over 300 houses and some 4,000 - 5,000 people - as the damage could have been contained right from the beginning to some 10 houses.
How could the people in Penang in general, and the affected residents in the inner Georgetown areas, be convinced that the Penang State Government and the MPPP had acted with full responsibility when it failed to check the subsidence when it affected only some 10 houses, allowing it to balloon into a full-scale disaster for five months affecting over 300 houses involving 4,000 to 5,000 people?
Some residents have complained that the Penang State Government and the MPPP would have adopted a completely different approach to their complaints if their problems had happened before the April 1995 general elections, when cracks appearing in one house would have brought out the entire Penang State Government and MPPP machinery within 24 hours of the complaint.
The Penang State Government and the MPPP should be aware of these unhappiness of the people which is not helped by the remark by the Chief Minister yesterday about “not waste time blaming one another” and should address them boldly and responsibly.
The people who are directly affected by the Tanjong subsidence disaster are not interested in the game of “blaming one another”, but they are entitled to ascertain who must be held responsible for the man-made disaster which had befallen them, affecting their safety, livelihood, peace of mind, homes, property and livelihood so that they could be assured that they would get justice at the end of the day, and not become the new victims either of development in Penang or government indifference and negligence.
While all energies must be focussed on how to effect immediate remedial measures to save the over 300 houses affected by the subsidence caused by the Prangin Mall project, the Penang Chief Minister must give a categorical assurance that there would be no cover-up as to why the authorities had failed to act for five months to confine the damage to only some 10 houses - and that there would be a full and independent inquiry into the acts of negligence at the government level, whether state or municipal.