Safety of private religious schools under spotlight after deadly blaze
KUALA LUMPUR — The Islamic boarding school destroyed in yesterday morning’s blaze did not have a fire exit, said the authorities, while adding that the facility was operating without a fire permit.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also said that the school was not registered with the education ministry.
Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Noh Omar said the operators of Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah had submitted plans that were different from the school’s structure.
“I was informed that the Fire Department received an application (for a permit) with architecture plans,” he said. “The Fire Department ... had yet to give their approval (for) the CCC (Certificate of Completion and Compliance). We have yet to give our approval but the religious school began operating.”
Mr Noh said the original plan submitted by the school showed an “open area concept”, with two emergency staircases and no walls on the top floor. He noted that what he saw at the site was different. “I went upstairs just now and I saw that there was a wall separating the room (on the top floor) that should not exist, according to the original plans,” he said. “We will take action. If they (have broken) the law, they should not be allowed to operate ... But this thing has already happened. It is done … It is better if we prevent them from recurring.”
There was only one door, which severely restricted escape routes. All window grilles were locked in the building as at least 23 people, mostly students, perished.
Unregistered and private religious schools have mushroomed and their fire safety measures are a major concern for the authorities.
Mr Zahid said it was not the first time that such institutions have not been registered with the education ministry.
“We are quite observant. We know that, every two to three years, there are incidents of fires or incidents like this, incidents of structures collapsing in these schools,” he said.
The deputy premier said that some religious schools have resisted the implementation
Meanwhile, Kelantan’s Fire and Rescue Department has identified 17 religious schools that have not been registered with the local religious authority. Apart from not being registered with the state Islamic Religious Council, these religious schools have also been categorised as being of high risk of catching fire. The Terengganu state government has also instructed all relevant agencies to inspect and ensure that all school buildings, including tahfiz and tuition centres, meet safety requirements. of safety regulations for fear that these may lead to interference in their affairs.
“We do see that safety standards at these schools are not complied with, as if they are being stubborn and perceive that the government is trying to interfere with their affairs,” he was quoted saying. “We are merely looking at the safety aspects. It should not be seen as done under the name of power; the safety of the children and the wardens and their lives should be the priority here.”
He said that the government will form a committee immediately to investigate the matter.
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health chairman Lee Lam Thye said the incident should serve as a lesson to all. He suggested that the government compel every Islamic religious school to register with the education ministry or state government. Once registered, the government should make it compulsory for a comprehensive safety audit at such schools and their facilities, he said in a statement.
“The authorities which conduct the audit check must identify the safety level of the school, including fire hazards.” AGENCIES
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