Following is an article I published on the 24th of October 2017 following a landslide tragedy in Tanjung Bungah, Penang, that the then state government under the leadership of Lim Guan Eng insisted had claimed 11 lives.
Tanjung Bungah death toll may be higher than 11
Search and Rescue (SAR) operations at the Lengkok Lembah Permai construction site in Tanjung Bungah have come to a stop. The media quoted Fire and Rescue Department Director Saadon Moktar as saying all 11 bodies have been accounted for. Question is, did Moktar get the figure correct? Are there illegal Bangladeshi workers still buried at the site?
THE THIRD FORCE
Yesterday, I made my way to Lengkok Lembah Permai in Penang where a killer landslide claimed 11 or so lives. I was there to meet the state rep for Tanjung Bungah, Teh Yee Cheu, who agreed to issue an honest assessment of the whole incident for the public to consider (WATCH HERE). To me, there is no better way of getting a clear picture than listening to a man with the right facts and figures speak.
At 6.45 pm, Teh descended from the hilltop adjacent to the disaster site and walked straight over to meet me. The two of us then proceeded towards a nearby hawker stall and discussed the tragedy over some coffee. As we spoke, it was brought to my attention that the number of people buried at the site could well be more than the reported 11.
Apparently, there were Bangladeshis who claimed that the number could be as high as 14, perhaps even 20. Putting two and two together, and assuming these Bangladeshis were telling the truth, I realised that the developer hired some illegal workers who may yet be unaccounted for. The irony is, media reports suggest that sniffer K9 dogs combed the whole area and did not indicate the presence of more bodies.
Anyway, the YB and I called it a day some 25 minutes later and parted ways. Feeling rather disturbed, I headed straight for another hawker unit to mull over stuff I had just heard. The one that played like a broken tape recorder in my conscience was the possibility that some Bangladeshis could still be buried at the site as we speak.
Then, something extremely weird happened.
As I sat sipping my coffee, two very nervous looking Bangladeshis waked into the shop and headed right towards me. The duo asked if it was me they just saw at the construction site. When I said yes, they looked extremely tense and asked if they could speak to me. I gestured for them to sit and proceeded to order two more cups of coffee.
Following is the back and forth that took place between me and the Bangladeshis (who introduced themselves as Iqbal and Sadiq):
Iqbal: Abang polis ka?
Sadiq: (looking frightened) Tadi abang ada pegi site apasal? Abang jangan marah, saya tanya saja.
Me: Saya pi jumpa YB Tanjung Bungah. Hang keja sana ke?
Sadiq: Ya ya abang…(speaks in Bangladeshi to Iqbal, then reverts to me)…tapi abang tamau kasi tau sama siapa-siapa.
Me: Pasai pa pulak?
Sadiq: Takut abang
Me: Ok. Apa cete?
Sadiq: Tara faham abang
Me: You apasai mau cakap sama saya? Ada apa-apa mau kasi tau?
Sadiq: Ada abang
Sadiq: Abang, banyak orang hilang abang
Iqbal: Saya ada jumpa 5 lagi kawan….diorang hilang. Tatau mati ka hidup ka
Me: You punya kawan ada lagi dalam site???
Sadiq: (starts to shiver) Tatau abang
Me: Tadi you cakap mungkin sudah mati?
Sadiq: Tatau diorang ada lari ka ada dalam ka…
Me: You apasai tamau kasi tau siapa-siapa???
Sadiq: (shivering) Takut abang…
Me: Takut apa???
Iqbal: Boss nanti marah abang…
Me: Boss marah??? You punya boss siapa?
(pin drop silence)
Me: You takut siapa? You cakap, saya ada kawan. You cakap. You takut siapa???
(pin drop silence)
Me: (I lose my temper) Woi, you takut siapa??? Itu construction punya tauke ka?? You takut dia ka??
(pin drop silence)
Me: Apasai you mai jumpa saya?
Sadiq: You nampak macam baik punya orang. Tadi saya ada nampak you cakap sama itu Cina sini punya (YB Teh).
Me: (I calm down) Ok, takpa. Ini macam. Sekarang saya angkat you pegi jumpa polis, you cerita apa you tau. Boleh? Saya satu orang pegi jumpa tak boleh. You jangan takut. Saya ada.
Sadiq: Ok. Boleh abang.
I then proceeded to pay the bill. But as soon as I stepped out of the shop, the two fellows bolted almost as if they saw a ghost. By then, it was already 8 pm. Seeing no alternative, I quickly drove towards the construction site, hoping to see if I could spot the Bangladeshis or perhaps even their friends loitering around.
But I saw nobody.
Anyway, I have taken the liberty of alerting YB Teh of the matter and hope that the authorities will consider doing one last check with K9 sniffers. It troubles me that the developer has yet to issue a statement and seems to be shying away from cameras. Perhaps the fear I saw in Iqbal and Sadiq’s eyes is an indication that something is terribly amiss. Perhaps there is more to the landslide story that any of us can imagine.
I really can’t say.