Cabinet should commission independent public inquiry into the miraculous 20,000 tonnes NKVE rockslide without any loss of life to determine whether there had been professional negligence on the part of PLUS and Works Ministry on rockslide assessment, analysis, prediction and mitigation and the lessons to be drawn to ensure a “safe and intelligent” transport system
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday directed the Public Works Department and Project Lebuhraya Utara Selatan (PLUS) to monitor all hillslopes along the New Klang Valley Expressway (NKVE) to ensure there are no further disruptions of traffic following the rockslide, with some boulders as large as double-storey houses, at 21.8 km NKVE near Bukit Lanjan on Wednesday.
Speaking at the UMNO Hari Raya gathering at Bagan Serai, Abdullah added that there was no immediate need for a special taskforce to monitor highways and roads as this was being undertaken by PLUS and PWD.
The Prime Minister’s concern about the 20,000-tonnes NKVE rockslide is commendable, especially as it was a pure miracle that there was no casualty when it occurred in the early hours of the second day of Hari Raya holidays. It would have been a major and terrible tragedy if the rockslide had taken place in the full flush of traffic flow later in the day with hundreds of thousands of people and vehicles on the road returning from their “balik kampong”.
However, when the Prime Minister of the country has to issue a directive to PWD and the expressway concessionaire to monitor all hillslopes along the NKVE to ensure their safety, it bespeaks of the continuation of the deplorable malaise of “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” – as the whole system of expressway rockfall assessment, analysis, prediction and mitigation should have been fully in place after all these years of operation of the NKVE concession and toll-collection!
Both PLUS and the PWD owe Malaysians a full and satisfactory explanation why they were incapable of operating a “safe and intelligent” expressway system which could have averted the Bukit Lanjan rockslide, as it was not triggered by a sudden natural disaster like an earthquake but caused by the ordinary rainy season.
The public explanations given by the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu and PLUS spokesmen have only raised grave questions about the professionalism and the public responsibility of the Works Ministry and PLUS, both of which seemed to have conducted themselves in disregard of the discipline and principles of rockfall assessment, analysis, prediction and mitigation.
This is all the more inexcusable especially as both the government and the expressway concessionaires are aware that steep slopes at various locations on the North-South Expressway-Jalan Duta and the NKVE, Gua Tempurong near Ipoh and the Menora tunnel near Kuala Kangsar were cause of concern – and yet no proactive action had been taken to institute any rockfall protection system to stabilize and avert artificial rock slope failures.
Although Samy Vellu said close monitoring carried out by PLUS after some small rocks had fallen from the slope on Sunday had helped prevent the loss of life by giving advance warning on soil movement, it was completely fortuitous that the 20,000 tonnes of rockslide had not occurred when hundreds of thousands of vehicles were on the expressway, causing a major tragedy and disaster!
The reason which had been given by Samy Velly as to why the NKVE stretch at Bukit Lanjan was not closed after some small rocks had fallen from the slope on Sunday – that it is an important road because between 500,000 and 600,000 use the stretch daily – is completely unacceptable, as the NKVE stretch has now to be closed for some two weeks apart from sending out the message that human lives and public safety have not been accorded the topmost priority!
Rockslides, with boulders as large as double-storey houses, do not occur overnight but over a considerable period of time which should have been apparent to any professional rockslide assessment, analysis and prediction. As the hilly outcrop which collapsed was granite, which is a strong rock, why were the authorities unaware of its extensive loss of integrity resulting in its slope deformation and its 20,000-tonnes collapse?
The revelation by Samy Vellu that the Cabinet had two months ago turned down his request for a RM156 million allocation to set up a task force to monitor and maintain slopes next to roads, highways and nearby hills raised the question whether Abdullah’s dismissal of the need for a special task force to monitor highways and roads should be reconsidered.
The Cabinet on Wednesday should commission an independent public inquiry into the miraculous 20,000 tonnes NKVE rockslide without any loss of life to determine whether there had been professional negligence on the part of PLUS and Works Ministry on rockslide assessment, analysis, prediction and mitigation and the lessons to be drawn to ensure a “safe and intelligent” transport system for highway users.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman