Re-examine approval process for hillslope development

"GETTING it right with hillslopes" (Local Counsel, Nov 7) refers.

According to reports, the Tanjong Bungah project went ahead only after approval by various departments in accordance with the Safety Guideline for Hillsite Development.

This guideline was implemented by the Penang government in 2012 to prevent such a disaster. This means proposed slopes would have been analysed and designed by an engineer.

Therefore, when failure occurs despite rules being followed, the approval process should be re-examined for shortcomings and rectified.

Cut slopes fail because the factors and processes determining their stability or instability are still not adequately understood. Even in Hong Kong, which is often acknowledged as having the most successful landslide prevention system, the failure rate of engineered slopes is, in the words of an engineer there, "not that low".

Understandably, the situation in Malaysia cannot be better.

While inevitably at least some slopes will fail, they must be made less frequent with the right strategy. This would include the following measures:

» The entire process of approval for such projects must be transparent. All documents supporting their applications and corresponding approvals/rejections by government bodies should be kept in the public domain to ensure that procedures are followed. This will allow lessons to be learnt from both successful and failed projects.

» Those who design and execute the works are held accountable when things go wrong and if procedures are not followed. If failures occur despite procedures being followed, the causes of failures must be investigated and made public and open to discussion. Too often the reports on inquiries into failures are kept from public view so that the causes of failures are never really learnt.

» Guidelines must be constantly upgraded as our expertise improves.