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Baling floods: Set up independent commission of inquiry

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The recent Baling ‘flash floods’ saw damage to property and even loss of life.

What is the cause of these floods? The government ought to explain honestly and even take responsibility if it is responsible, in any way. Hence an apology and an explanation on what it would do to compensate the victims is warranted.

Three lives were lost, and 1,400 residents had to be evacuated. How much was the total loss suffered by the people? Do not simply tell us how much the government lost or spent after the fact.

Is anyone going to be charged for the loss of life? This must be done, as God should not be blamed every time. Those responsible, through their negligence, must be identified and prosecuted.

Who is the government going to take action against? It should go further and explain what it will now do to make sure the area will not be flooded again during the next monsoon season.

After the floods, the government comes out with plans for flood mitigation (for flooding in the future) … or what will be done to mitigate (reduce) the possibility of flooding.

The problem now is that direct responsibility lies with the local government or local councils. (But then we still do not enjoy the right to elect our own local government representatives. They are all state or federal appointees.)

Since the Baling floods, has the local government responsible come out to provide explanations, taken responsibility or even told the affected people of Baling what would be done to ensure they do not fall victims to floods?

I did not see any reported statement from the local government. Why is that?

The other party responsible is the state government. What has it done? Many statements have been on how it was not responsible, that it was not due to illegal logging, or prior approvals given by the state to people to clear forests to plant durians.

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Was it because the state did not monitor waterways, and irresponsible loggers or farmers had let waste products (uprooted trees, plants and soil) enter and reduce the depth of rivers?

Or had state bodies failed to effectively monitor and enforce the law? There were lots of tree parts that were washed out during these floods. Should we not determine where they came from and who was responsible?

Maybe we need an independent body – not those from the affected local government or state government) to investigate and tell us the truth. Maybe this body could be made up of representatives from the federal government and other states, and many non-governmental experts, who will decide independently of the political parties in control.

Royal commissions of inquiry have had significant impacts in the past.

The royal commission on the Bright Sparklers incident saw the enactment of occupational safety and health laws.

The royal commission on the police saw improvements to the police force, and the call for an independent body to monitor and investigate the police.

Do we need a royal commission for the Baling floods? The answer should be yes. But it is important that the commission be open to the public and for the findings to be made public so that all will know the truth and the recommendations on how we can improve matters.

We do not want the royal commission report and findings to be ‘hidden’ from us, as happened in the royal commission on Wang Kelian. Why has the government not yet made public the royal commission’s findings on Wan Kelian?

Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar is saying no to a royal commission. Why? Because after it makes the recommendations, the cabinet will just pick and choose what it wants. So, the problem really is not with the royal commission but it is a problem of a failure of the cabinet.

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If made public, the people can also decide what recommendations to push for, if and when the cabinet refuses to take up some (or all) recommendations of the royal commission.  

Wan Junaidi seems to point his finger of blame at law enforcement. He said what was more important was to look at the existing aspects of law enforcement.

Well, that suggests that the law enforcement bodies failed in their duty to ensure laws are obeyed and to take action against the perpetrators.

But would not a problem arise if the guilty party turns out to be the state or state government-linked companies? The project was to be implemented by Menteri Besar Kedah Incorporated project proponent JV Kedah Agro Plantation Sdn Bhd at the early stage and was later changed to Aman Mega Sdn Bhd.

The one that approved the project was the state government. Was there a lack of enforcement because the ‘guilty’ party may be the state government?

Was there ‘corruption’? The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission is apparently investigating. But to date, there seems to be no company, whether government-linked firm or MB Kedah Incorporated, that has been charged.

This is a problem that arises when the state makes laws, the state enforces the laws, and government companies and government-linked companies are the alleged perpetrators.

Elections are around the corner, so this is also a factor that determines who gets charged or blamed – another reason for an independent royal commission of inquiry.

Have we heard of any legal action taken against MB Incorporated or government companies?

The government should stay out of direct involvement in business and focus on laws and law enforcement for the benefit of the people – not government leaders or politicians.

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Was there an open tender for this project? Was there an environmental impact assessment? Read Baling estate got environmental OK ‘for rubber, not durians’” – and what the director general of environment, Wan Abdul Latiff Wan Jaffar, says.

Maybe we need a new category – forest reserve for flood prevention or mitigation. Yes, there are many kinds of ‘forest reserve’ – but information about what and where these different forest reserves are is not easily available. It can perhaps be found in state gazettes, which, we find, are not easily accessible online.

Maybe there should be forest reserves for the protection of water catchment areas and forest reserves for the protection of endangered wildlife.

Importantly, if a part of any forest reserve is to be changed to allow logging or durian plantations, the public must be informed so that they can exercise their right in the decision-making and make the announcements online. 

It looks like both the state and the federal government will just do nothing and hope people will forget when some other matter draws their attention away.

A royal commission, if truly independent persons are appointed, is a risk to the government as it might reveal the truth to the people – and state governments cannot ‘cover up’. That is why a royal commission is best, and then we will see what our political or government leaders will do – or choose not to do.

In fact, there should be another royal commission of inquiry to look into the floods last December – to be tasked also with establishing what needs to be done to prevent future floods or to reduce the impact of the floods.

After all, the government does not seem to have told us the concrete steps that will be taken by the respective states and the federal government. – charleshector.blogspot.com

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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