Have you ever shaken your head in exasperation whenever tragic incidents occur in our country?
The disbelief escalates when our ministers and other government officials glibly give ‘brilliant’ answers, ‘explanations’ for these tragedies and possible remedies – ironically, only after lives are lost or millions of ringgit in property damages incurred.
There are many such instances. Recall the “kiss-kiss” light rail train accident; the bridge collapse in rural Sabah and the fiery road accident that took the lives of five young students this Raya.
Consider the recent floods in Janda Baik, Bentong. On 11 May five kampongs – Sum-Sum, Cheringin, Chemperoh, Lampin and Pulau Santap – were hit by “flash” floods for the second time in six months since December 2021.
Following the floods, which swamped many residents and business owners, Environment and Water Ministry secretary general Zaini Ujang outlined emergency work and plans to mitigate future flood devastation.
Zaini said the recent flash floods were triggered by a deluge in the upper reaches of the river basin and by sedimentation that made the river beds around Janda Baik shallower. The sedimentation, he added, was the result of the floods last December.
The sedimentation caused the Benus, Cheringin and Chemperoh rivers to overflow. Moreover, the affected villages, Zaini said, were in low-lying areas and built too close to the river. These were some of the reasons these residences and resorts were easily flooded, he said.
Following the floods last year, Environment Minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man instructed the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) to expedite the dredging of these river beds. The work started in March and until now, only one project has been completed. Two more are due to be completed in June.
Zaini added the DID also plans to build flood retaining walls (bunds) at stretches identified along the river as well as telemetry stations (for on-site data collection) and flood warning stations upstream of Janda Baik.
As a long-term solution, Zaini said the ministry (through the DID) was speeding up the Bentong River flood mitigation plan and environmentally friendly drainage masterplan projects. These were expected to be implemented in 2023 with an allocation of over RM400m.
These plans, after the fact, raise more troubling questions about our capacity to foresee problems and to plan ahead.
If the low-lying areas near these rivers are known to be vulnerable to flooding, then why were these businesses given permits and assistance decades ago to build and develop the areas around Janda Baik?
Why only now, after two flood incidents in this locality, do we hear of plans to build flood retaining walls, telemetry stations and flood warning stations? Shouldn’t these have been put in place decades ago?
One also cannot help but wonder about the cause of the unusually increased sedimentation downstream. Where did the sediments come from, if not from upstream? What is going on upstream to have produced all this sedimentation, mud and debris downstream?
You do not need to be a qualified surveyor to know that upstream of this locality is mountainous jungle terrain. It does not take extraordinary intelligence or imagination to guess what is really happening upstream.
So, every time a tragic incident takes place and the people cry foul on social media, we immediately get ‘clever’ answers as if to show that the government is doing all the right things to the best it can.
The question is, what are the personnel and the well-paid heads of departments in the relevant ministries doing to mitigate disasters before they happen?
Something is seriously wrong. It is grossly irresponsible when government officers blame God or nature for such devastations. It is also too easy for them to get away with smart-sounding post-tragedy remedies.
You cannot build a progressive nation by repeatedly pulling wool over the people’s eyes. It is high time we asked these leaders about their sense of national accountability.