Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday, 18th July 1994 on the Street, Drainage and Building (Amendment) Bill
The finding of the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council Inquiry Committee on principal parties and contributory parties for the Highland Towers Collapse Disaster is at variance with the detailed findings of its Technical Committee which identified the developer, the draughtsman, engineer, neighbouring property owners and the local authorities as equally liable for the tragedy.
Members of Parliament must have received a shock when they entered the Dewan Rakyat today, for they had expected the Judges Rumeneration Amendment Bill to the first item of business as laid down in the Order Paper when the House adjourned last Thursday. However, without full and proper notice, the Street, Drainage and Building Amendment Bill which was only tabled before the House adjourned of the week, has been brought to the fore for immediate debate.
The raises the suspicion as to whether the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Datuk Dr. Ting Chew Peh, is trying to avoid a full and thorough debate on the Street, Drainage and Building Amendment Bill as well as the Highland Towers Condominium Collapse Tragedy which caused this amendment bill to be drafted.
This suspicion is strengthened by the refusal of the Housing Minister to submit to full parliamentary and public accountability on the Highland Towers Tragedy in his refusal to table in Parliament the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council Highland Towers Tragedy Inquiry Committee Report and in his allowing the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council to charge the exorbitant price of RM1,600 for each set of the six-volume reports – designed to discourage full public scrutiny of the report and its findings!
We cannot help but wonder what the Housign Minister is trying to hide from Parliament and the public in his refusal to table the Highland Towers Tragedy Inquiry Report in Parliament and to ensure that they are sold at a reasonable price to be and to ensure that they are sold at a reasonable price to be easily available to the public so that Malaysians can learn from the lessons of the Highland Towers Tragedy losses, sufferings and hardships to the survivors and other Highland Tower residents.
The Ampang Jaya Municipal Council stands accused of trying to profiteer from the Highland Towers Tragedy and the death of 48 people in imposing the ludicrous price of RM1,600 per report and the Housing Minister, Datuk Dr. Ting Chew Peh must be ashamed that he did not know better in failing to intervene in the pricing of the Highland Towers Tragedy Inquiry Report and to table it in Parliament.
It would appear that Dr. Ting wants to treat the death of 48 people and the collapse of the Highland Towers Condominium Block 1 as a local affair, when it should be regarded as a major national tragedy deserving full Parliamentary attention!
The six-volume Ampang Jaya Municipal Council Inquiry Report into the Highland Towers Tragedy consisted of two parts: the report of the Main Committee and the report of the Technical Committee of Investigation.
The report of the Main Committee is a very short six-chapter 14-page affair.
Chapter 5 of the report of the main inquiry committee on “Parties Contributory o The Collapse” said:
“Section 258(5) of the Uniform Building By-Lake 1984 states that:
‘Notwithstanding that any plan, drawing or calculation has been approved by the local authority, the responsibility for the failure of any building or part of a building shall prima facie, lie with the person who submitted such plan, drawing or calculation.’
“The Committee has identified Mr. Wong Ting Sang, a registered building draughtsman with the Board of Architect Malaysia, under the style of Konsortium Jurrbina Perunding as the submitting person for the achitechnical plans and Mr. Wong Yuen Kean of Waja Perunding as the submitting person for the structure plans of the building.
“A Principal Parties
1. Highland Properties Sdn. Bhd. (the developer/owner):
a. For failing to engage a qualified submitting person for the project, in particular in connection with the design, construction and supervision of the earth works, retaining walls and slope of the development area;
b. For proceeding with the construction work without getting the required approval and allowing construction work to be carried out without proper supervision;
c. For failing to implement and fully comply with the drainage plans approved by Jabatan Pengairan dan Saliran (JPS);
d. For failing to carry out proper maintenance of the surface drainage behind the condominium.
2. Mr. Wong Tin Sang (Konsortium Jurubina Perunding):
a. For exceeding his approved capacity in accepting the role as submitting person in the development of Highland Towers Condominium.
3. Mr. Wong Yuen Kean (Waja Perunding):
a. For signing the road and drainage plans of the project that he did not design and for failing to supervise the drainage works.
“B. Other Contributory Parties
1. Neibouring Property Owners
It has been observed that in developing their properties prior to the collapse, the adjoining property owners had by their acts and or omission allowed the occurrence of a change in the direction of the natural water path at the adjoining and upper portion of the lope into the existing stream behind Block 1 which in turn led to the concentration of run-off water leading to the slope behind Block 1.
2. Local Authorities
It has also been observed at that time that there were weaknesses in the compliance to the processing system and enforcement of the Building By Laws in the local authorities due to the lack of staff leading to the approval of plans and issuance of Certificate of Fitness (CF) despite irregularities in the process of plan submission and non-compliance of technical requirements.”
However, this finding of the Main Committee is at variance with the finding of the Technical Committee of Investigation into the Collapse of the Highland Towers Condominium Block 1.
I have read the Reports of the Main Committee and the Technical Committee, and I find that the Main Committee had misrepresented the finding of the Technical Committee in differentiating between Principal Parties and Contributory Parties for the Highland Towers Collapse Disaster.
It is clear from the report and findings of the Technical Committee that not only the developer, Highland Properties Sdn. Bhd., the draughtsman Wong Tin Sang and engineer Wong Yuen Kean must be held responsible for the Highland Towers Condominium Block 1, equally liable are the neighbouring property owners and the local authorities.
There are no principal parties and contributory parties in the Highland Towers Collapse Disaster, as all the five parties – the developer, draughtsman , engineer, neighbouring property owners and the local authorities are all principal parties for the Highland Towers Collapse.
I find it very surprising therefore that out of the six signatories to the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council Highland Towers Collapse Inquiry Report, four of them are from the Technical Committee, namely Dr. Nik Ramlan b Nik Hassan (Institut Kerja Raya Malaysia), Henry I Lee (Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia), Azman b. Abd. Samad (Institut Kerja Raya Malaysia) and Dr. Judin b. Abd. Karim (Jabatan Kerja Rya Malaysia).
Is the main cause of the Highland Towers Collapse its ‘weak foundation’ or the massive landslides caused by development by neighbouring property owners?
The Ampang Jaya Municipal Council Inquiry Committee was set up with four terms of reference with regard to the Highland Towers Tragedy, namely:
1) To investigate into the causes of the collapse of Block 1 and to identify the party or parties responsible for the collapse;
2) To make recommendations on actions that could be taken against those responsible; if any,
3) To make recommendations on measures to prevent future recurrences of such accidents; and
4) To make an assessment and recommendations on the fate of Block 2 and 3.
The Main Committee pinpointed the cause for the Highland Towers Collapse on the ‘weak fuondation’ of the condominium. Thus, it said in its Conclusion:
“The most probable cause of Block 1 Highland Towers Condominium, Hulu Klang, Selangor was due to the buckling and shearing of the rail piles foundation induced by the movement of soil. This movement was caused by additional pressure from the landslide and rubble wall debris behind the aggravated surface runoff that triggered the series of landslide.”
The Technical Committee’s conclusion however varied from that of the Main Committee in putting the main cause on the ‘landslides’, when it concluded in its Executive Summary:
“The conclusion of the investigation has pointed out that several parties have acted irresponsibly in the total development of the Highland Towers project. The Committee is convinced that the most probable cause of the failure was due to retrogressive landslides behind the building of Block 1 which consequently induced the instability of the rail pile foundation which was not designed for lateral loading. The inadequate provision of drainage and the lack of maintenance drains aggravated the friable nature of the slope materials by increased surface runoff and infiltration rate that finally triggered the series of landslides.”
If the technical Committee is right that the ‘landslides’ are the principal cause of the Highland Towers collapse, then the neighbouring property owners who caused these ‘landslides’ cannot be ‘contributory parties’ but are also ‘principal parties’ of the Highland Towers Collapse.
Is the main cause of the Highland Towers Collapse its ‘weak foundation’ on the massive landslides caused by development by neighbouring property owners?
It is most shocking that the Main Committee seems to contradict the Technical Committee on this important finding.
Chapter 5 of the Report of the Technical Committee said:
“60. Observation of the failure site indicated an overall area of the landslide on the hillslope behind Block 1 was about 120 metres long and about 90 metres wide involving approximately 40,000 cubic metres of debris. Aerial inspection carried out two days later after the collapse suggested