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I WRITE with a heavy heart and a sense of urgency in the wake of the devastating incident that occurred at Jalan Sultan Ismail in Kuala Lumpur on May 7.

The fall of a massive tree not only wreaked havoc on 17 cars, a bus stop and the monorail line but it also claimed the life of a motorist and left several others injured. This tragedy is not an isolated incident but a glaring symptom of a larger issue that demands immediate attention and accountability.

The pictures and videos circulating depict a towering tree with disproportionately small roots, suggesting a lack of proper maintenance and inspection.

It is appalling to think such a catastrophe could unfold on a bustling thoroughfare lined with numerous imposing trees. One cannot help but wonder: Who should bear the responsibility for this tragedy?

While some may hastily point fingers at the owner of the private land where the tree stood, absolving the local authority of any blame, such a simplistic attribution overlooks the shared responsibility for public safety.

The local authority cannot evade accountability by merely pointing to the tree’s location on private property. It is their duty to foresee and mitigate risks associated with trees lining public roads, regardless of ownership.

Furthermore, one cannot help but speculate on the potential divergent reactions had the victims of this tragedy been the family members of someone rich and powerful, a prominent politician or even the relatives of a minister or senior member of the local authority concerned. Would the response from the authorities have been swifter and more robust? Would there have been a flurry of activity to ensure justice and compensation for the victims?

Such questions highlight not only the need for accountability but also the insidious influence of privilege and power in our society. Every citizen, regardless of status or background, deserves equal protection under the law and a commitment to safeguarding their safety and well-being.

Moreover, this is not the first time such a calamity has occurred. In August 2023, a friend was involved in a similar incident on the Sprint Highway near Intan (the National Institute of Public Administration), which resulted in damaged vehicles and narrowly averted fatalities. She was lucky to escape fatality by mere seconds when the huge tree trunk fell on the front portion of her car, causing extreme damage.

Unfortunately, she was told to claim from her insurance company as no one stepped up to take responsibility. She was informed that this was an “Act of God”. Despite the potential for tragedy, the lack of media coverage and official response allowed the issue to fade into obscurity, leaving victims without recourse.

We cannot allow a cycle of negligence and impunity to persist. It is unconscionable for any party, whether private landowners or local authorities, to shirk responsibility and leave victims to bear the burden of damages without recompense. The safety and well-being of citizens must always take precedence over bureaucratic finger-pointing and indifference.

As residents of Kuala Lumpur, we cannot afford to wait for tragedies to repeat themselves before taking decisive action. The abundance of trees lining our roads should be a source of pride, not fear. However, pride should be tempered with responsibility.

We urge the authorities to take immediate and comprehensive measures to ensure the regular maintenance and inspection of trees along public thoroughfares.

Considering the risks of potential falling trees that are in abundance throughout Kuala Lumpur, we should all call for the relevant authorities to treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves.

We cannot afford to wait for another tragedy to galvanise action. Let us honour the memory of the fallen motorist and prevent future loss by holding accountable those responsible for ensuring public safety.