COMPLIANCE, on a simple level, is doing what is stated in the rule books, whether in municipal laws and by-laws, national legislations or in international protocols or agreements. While it is relatively easy to formulate and pass plans and laws and by-laws, compliance with them is another story.
There are many cases of non-compliance in towns and cities. They include littering, illegal dumping of waste, illegal extension or change of use, disobeying traffic rules, and substandard construction of buildings.
In a study of non-compliance with municipal rules and regulations in urban Malaysia, the following reasons were found.
They included ignorance of the rules and rationale of the rules, unclear rules, a “could-not-be-bothered” attitude, too lenient or inadequate penalties and, last but not least, inadequate or absence of enforcement actions against those who do not comply. The fact is that there are plenty of rules, but often not enough will to learn about and follow them.
Of course, there are those who are fully aware of the existing laws and their rationale and yet do not comply. These are risk takers, callous individuals or unscrupulous businesses who are only concerned about their own convenience or profit margins to bother with following the law. They are not concerned about the degradation of public space or the environment.
On a national and international scale, we have been hearing about the much-publicised case of illegal import of foreign plastic wastes that has tripled in the last two years, despite the existence of the Basel Convention to regulate trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste and its disposal. Hopefully, the waste in question will soon be sent back to the countries of origin as reported in the press.
Many cases of non-compliance have more serious and life-threatening consequences than just dirty streets or unpleasant residential estates.
They result in tragedies claiming many precious lives. The recent collapse of a multi-storey car park under construction near the Gombak Terminal LRT station resulted in the deaths of two foreign workers, who were husband and wife, and injury of three others.
The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) has taken the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) to task for not ensuring compliance of safety aspects of the workers at the work site as checks conducted by the CAP at the site found that the workers did not wear safety gear like helmets, harnesses, safety vests, protective gloves, hearing protection and other fall protection equipment when working above six feet high.
The vice-president of CAP, Mohideen Abdul Kader, said that safety should not be compromised where people’s lives are at stake.
With the large amount of construction work in the country, enforcement bodies must make sure that the owners of construction companies take stringent and preventive measures to avoid any unwanted accident.
Statistics show that in 2017, 711 workers were killed on the job. Mohideen said that this figure is “shocking and disgraceful”. He went on to say that those in the construction industry do not respect the law and do not fear the law. Under the Occupational Safety Act employers are responsible for making work sites safe and DOSH is responsible for enforcing the acts of compliance.
In addition, he also said that errant consultants should be de-registered to show that incompetence and negligence will not be tolerated. CAP has also suggested several recommendations to improve the role of DOSH to ensure safety at construction sites.
The two major landslides that happened in Penang – in Tanjung Bungah (two years ago) and Bukit Kukus (one year ago) – and killed 20 workers were also the result of contractors not complying with safety standards.
The construction industry, in particular, must ensure compliance. Construction workers build buildings roads, highways and infrastructures under tough and dangerous conditions, working on tall structures, excavating, and being exposed to noise, dust and power tools.
Frequently, foreigners from poorer countries come to work as labourers out of necessity. Many of them live in cramped and over-crowded conditions in low-cost flats. Some even live in makeshift structures, like shantytowns, in construction sites. Employers can do more by upgrading their living conditions and ensuring overall work site safety.
While industries like construction are particularly dangerous, it should be stressed that every single case of non-compliance sets a bad example for others to follow. Taken to the extreme, the whole concept of the rule of law is threatened. Compliance is not only necessary to ensure safe and healthy working conditions, it is also important to maintain civil society.
Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org