Kim Kim River Disaster: When A Government Fails To Govern

Who suffers when a govt is uncaring? The Sg Kim Kim disaster in Pasir Gudang, Johor, due to chemical wastes disposed into the river sparked the question: What will the PH govt then do about it? (Photo: Bernama)

The Kim Kim River chemical pollution disaster which shocked the nation in 2019 is living proof that when you vote in the wrong government, your welfare is never a priority.

By R. Muralitharan and Hasnah Abdul Rahman at ground zero, Kim Kim River, Pasir Gudang, Johor.

JOHOR BARU – When we were invited to meet some of the 40 victims of Malaysia’s worst toxic disaster, the Kim Kim River catastrophe which happened here three years ago, we were brought back to the time when the government fumbled and made one disastrous mistake after another.

The tragedy, alleged to have been aggravated by the then Pakatan Harapan (PH) government’s negligence, happened in March 2019 that brought on three damaging waves within a period of seven days.

It is no rocket science. Vote in the wrong gov’t and your life hangs in the balance.

Tomorrow, when the voters in Johor go out to vote, they must always remember at this time in 2019 when children and adults living along the Kim Kim River were dropping like flies after inhaling toxic fumes from the nearby river. Horror images of some 6,000 people within a period of seven days losing consciousness while we can hear words like: Ya’ Allah, seorang lagi rebah! (Oh my God, another victim collapses!) can never be etched out in our memory bank today.

These environmental disasters in the country are not a new phenomenon here.

It happens everywhere and in Malaysia, the blame-gaming starts whenever something like this occurs.

And this is where you can see what a strong, capable and effective government can do.

Like in Selangor, which has been run by PH for more than a decade, whenever a natural disaster like floods and landslides happen, the Menteri Besar of the day would be making one ridiculous statement after another, or be seen going to karaoke bars, making music videos or just being uncaring while its citizens were suffering.

Kim Kim River Disaster – Lock Your Doors While I Go And Play Golf

The same evolved when the Kim Kim River accident happened.

The then Johor Menteri Besar, the late Osman Sapian from Bersatu of the PH coalition, was seen playing golf in Indonesia and subsequently advised the residents adjacent to the disaster area to not go out from their homes, but to lock the doors and windows. Those were the palmface and shaking head moments that uncaring leaders are noted for.

Today we recount the chronology and infographics of the incident then and hope that both for the victims and the people of Johor, such ignoramuses will not be appointed as leaders ever again.

The three waves STAR graphics March 2019

Dubbed as the worst environmental toxic pollution disaster in the country, the Kim Kim River disaster in Pasir Gudang here shocked the nation when it affected 6,000 people with 2,775 being hospitalised. Most of these were schoolgoing children and school canteen operators who collapsed after showing symptoms of dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

Pasir Gudang’s 6000 residents were at immediate risk, and schools in the area were ordered to close. A total of 1,500 tonnes of river water was needed to clear the 900 tonnes of toxic sludge from the area.

Bernama Infographics

The affected families have filed lawsuits amounting to RM30mil against the state and federal governments as well as 10 other parties over the Sungai Kim Kim pollution incident.

Yesterday, the victims met the Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate for Johor Jaya, Chan San San, who, even before she became a candidate but just a community leader when her MCA was part of the Johor state opposition coalition then, has been helping the affected residents in whatever way she could.

When BN leaders like UMNO’s Isham Jalil and PCM’s Huan Cheng Guan heard that the victims were meeting the Johor Jaya candidate, they came along to the event to meet the victims and offer words of encouragement and support.

BN candidate for DUN Johor Jaya Chan San San is no new face to the victims of the Kim Kim catastrophe as she has always been given support and encouragement to the family members even before she was chosen as a candidate for the area

Lawyer Kamaruddin Ahmad, who led the claimants and filed the suits at the Johor Baru High Court in the same year, said that they were seeking a court order for the defendants to pay for their medical examination costs for three years, starting from the date of judgment.

“They are also seeking a court order for the defendants to pay for the medical fees of plaintiffs who suffered health problems caused by the pollution for 10 years,” he added.

Among the plaintiffs included 14-year-old Irfan Wafiy Idham Wazir, who is diagnosed with myokymia believed to be caused by the toxic pollution, and his parents Idham Wazir A. Wahab, 49, and Norlela Abu Hashim, 45. 

Losses Due To Kim Kim Pollution

The suits including seeking compensation between RM15,000 and RM30,000 each for losses endured due to the pollution in Sungai Kim Kim. He said that this included claims by the fishermen who had suffered great losses as customers were afraid to buy fish coming from Sungai Kim Kim, which is the river they depend on for fishing.

There were 42 Pasir Gudang residents, including school children, who filed a RM20mil lawsuit, while another 129 fishermen from seven villages filed a RM10mil lawsuit.

The suits named 12 defendants, including the federal and state governments, former Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian, former Health, Environment and Agriculture Committee chairman Dr Sahruddin Jamal (also Johor Mentri Besar after Osman), Department of Environment and its former director Dr Ezzani Mat Salleh and Pasir Gudang Municipal Council president Zainor Adani.

Also named as defendants were the company accused of causing the pollution, two of its directors, Yap Yoke Liang and Singaporean Wang Jing Choa as well as its lorry driver N. Maridass.

Maridass was charged in the Sessions Court for illegally disposing chemicals into Sungai Kim Kim while Yap and Wang are accused of conspiring with him. 

All three were charged under Section 34b(1)(a) of the Environment Quality Act 1974, while Yap and Wang were also charged under Section 42 of the same Act. 

So Johoreans, with approximately a few more hours left to go to the ballot box to decide who among the contesting political parties gets to rule Johor, it is advisable to cast your votes to a coalition that cares for the people. Do not give powers to any coalition that is only good at playing the blame game where the people have to suffer as how these Sungai Kim Kim victims suffer. – New Malaysia Herald

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