Zahid: Religious schools must comply with safety standards

 |Sep 15, 2017
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. – MO file pic.

KUALA LUMPUR: All residential religious schools nationwide must comply with building safety standards set by the authorities, says Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Speaking to reporters after visiting the Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah here which caught fire early yesterday morning and claimed the lives of 23 people, he said the rules set by the local authorities and the Fire and Rescue Department were clear.

“Since 2011, there has been 31 such incidents. Safety standards must be complied with by all parties for the safety of tahfiz students and teachers.

“The federal government does not wish to intervene in the affairs of state governments… we just want the safety standards to be followed,” he said here yesterday evening, adding that the safety of students and instructors should be prioritised.

Meanwhile, Zahid conveyed the condolences of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the government to the family members of the fire victims.

He said that based on reports by the Kuala Lumpur police chief and Fire and the Rescue Department director-general, 23 people were confirmed dead. They comprised 21 students and two teachers.

Zahid said the police and the fire department would conduct further investigations as initial checks revealed the premises did not have the required building safety features.

He said the safety aspects should have been prioritised although the premises was being used temporarily while the actual centre was under renovation.

“I wish to reiterate that we have an education policy for tahfiz schools, and this must be followed, be it temporarily or permanently,” he said, adding that a victim identification process was currently being conducted at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital.

It was also reported that Zahid had offered to chair a special task force to probe into the fire. He said he and other ministers would coordinate with various departments and agencies in the setting up of the task force.

“The task force will not only discuss the post-mortem findings of the fire incident, but also focus on preventive action as we cannot allow this to happen in other learning centres.

“This task force should be set up immediately. We should not wait until the cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss the matter,” he said at a press conference after visiting family members of the deceased at the KL Hospital mortuary here yesterday.

According to FMT, he said the government would bear the full cost of the funerals of all the deceased, and that psychological treatment would also be provided for family members of the victims.

Victims who survived the fire will receive similar aid to help them deal with the trauma.

Meanwhile, Bernama reported Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye saying the tragic fire that occurred at a residential religious school here and claimed the lives of 23 people early yesterday, should serve as a lesson to all.

He said the government should compel every Islamic religious school in the country to register with the education ministry or state government to enhance the safety and security of the buildings these schools were housed in.

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) chairman, once they were registered, the government should make it compulsory that a comprehensive safety audit be conducted at such schools and their facilities on a regular basis.

Lee said the authorities must also carry out annual checks on the safety of such schools nationwide, involving both their buildings and facilities, including the hostels, particularly those over 20 years old.

“The authorities which conduct the audit check must identify the safety level of the school, including fire hazards,” he added in a statement here yesterday.

Twenty-one students and two wardens died in a fire at the religious school, Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah, in Jalan Keramat Hujung here early yesterday.

Lee said there were 519 such schools registered nationwide as of April, but that many more were believed to be unregistered.

He said it was reported that the education ministry found it difficult to monitor and increase the security features at tahfiz schools since most were unregistered.

In the first three months of the year, fires were reported at some 30 tahfiz, pondok schools and madrasah, with losses estimated at over RM1.4 million, he added. – Bernama