Recently there was a letter published in Malaysiakini: https://m.malaysiakini.com/letters/401607 that spoke about how the Penang State Government should do much more on the flood situation.

I read the letter with great interest on what his points were but it seemed that the author was more interested to divert the attention away from the extreme weather and towards finger pointing the blame solely on the state government.

First he pointed the blame towards the hill slope developments in Penang, talking as if Penang is the only place in Malaysia where hill slope developments take place and totally ignoring the fact that Penang has stricter guidelines on hill slope developments that prohibits developments above 76 metres as opposed to the national guidelines of 300 metres. If he thinks the guidelines are not strict enough then why take aim at only Penang and not the federal government? If the state government does not have concern for hill slope development, we would have gone ahead at approving all the way to the federal guidelines. The fact that the state government is taking more precautions than the federal government does not seem to be important as it seems the author still feels its the state government’s fault.

The author then took aim at Penang’s flood mitigation programs which he claims the Penang State Government had not prioritised. I had written in my previous article that the federal government had claimed that they had allocated RM 2.6 billion for flood mitigation when in reality only RM 443 million had been spent. The state government and local councils had to add in an additional RM 405 million despite only getting around 0.0074% of the total federal budget. Is that not prioritising flood mitigation? The federal government also claimed that they are an elected government by the people therefore the author should ask them to put their money where their mouths are but instead even getting short changed by the federal government is the state government’s fault according to the author.

The author then turned his attention to the “bald spot” spot on Penang Hill, what bald spot on Penang Hill? Has the author even been to Penang lately? Mitigation works had been carried out and even The Star newspaper themselves wrote an article on 2016 that the cleared hill had become greener.(https://www.thestar.com.my/metro/community/2016/11/23/new-life-springs-up-on-botak-hill-greenery-slowly-covering-bald-eyesore-and-no-sign-of-construction/) Other than that, people who illegally clear hills have been taken to court but remember that the penalties are up to the courts to decide not the state government. If the author feels the penalties are not heavy enough then appeal to relevant ministries to amend existing laws. Why isn’t the forestry and environmental departments called out to task for their failures to improve the law to clamp down on offenders? But no, the author still feels it’s the state government’s fault.

And then came the ultimate point he made, the author claimed that the Penang State Government had not heeded the warnings of the Malaysian Meteorological Department. Wow, I was speechless because honestly if there is one thing I would like to say to the MET department, it is the fact that they had totally failed us in their duty of warning us that a tropical cyclone was on its way to Penang. The MET department only gave us a warning of “Amaran Cuaca Buruk” when a full fledge tropical cyclone was making its way towards Penang giving Penangites no time to prepare for the highest rainfall in Penang’s history.

In countries like the US or China, tropical cyclones like tropical storms, hurricanes or typhoons would be given attention and an alert would be given for citizens to evacuate ahead of these deadly storms. In Penang however, we got the usual “Amaran Cuaca Buruk” that the MET department would issue daily on their facebook page without any mention that the impending storm was of a cyclonic nature.

I was curious about that storm and thus I decided to research it and only then did I find the truth of how the storm (named 28W, later 29W and originally classified as a tropical disturbance) had crossed the peninsula in a weakened form and strengthened over the warm seas around Penang island while doing a slow U-turn over us that lasted the entire day. How did I find that out? By studying a map published by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. That’s right, the Americans had more insight on our own storm than our own MET department. So is the author still going to claim that a tropical cyclone is the state government’s fault?

If the author wanted to criticise, by all means do so but at least study the subject matter before writing that letter. Tropical cyclones are a dangerous weather phenomenon that is very alien to Malaysians in general. They start their violent lives in the warm seas of the tropics as tropical disturbances before becoming tropical depressions and then tropical storms. The final stage of a tropical cyclone is a typhoon (also called hurricanes). What hit us may be the first stage of a tropical cyclone but it is a tropical cyclone nonetheless and the fact that it circled Penang rather that passing over the state resulted in record levels of rainfall and winds that Penangites have never experienced before. (See attached map)

So when the author closed his letter by saying that there was a fine line between being a politician and a bureaucrat, I then realised why I had such a hard time understanding what the author was trying to say. As perhaps the author himself was having a hard time trying to understand the point that he was trying to make. What has being a politician and a bureaucrat got to do with floodings and cyclones? Which politician is trying to be a bureaucrat or vice-versa?

The only bureaucratic figures I see are the ones in poorly run federal agencies like the MET department that is apparently so bureaucratic that they had no idea that something as a serious tropical cyclone deserved more than an “Amaran Cuaca Buruk” and should have been giving red alert warnings ahead of an impending natural disaster.

So in closing, I would like to say once again that if the author would like to criticise, please do so but do so with scientific data backing his points up. What happened was a natural disaster, what we have to do now is help those who were affected to resume their lives and work on future prevention. As the climate changes, infrastructural changes need to be made but trust me, help cannot be extended to those in need and neither can flood mitigation works be carried out by simply sitting behind a computer and making unscientific political statements.

Chris Lee Chun Kit is a City Councillor at the City Council of Penang Island representing the DAP