KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 16 ― The Malaysian Bar today called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to investigate the cause of Thursday’s deadly pre-dawn blaze at a tahfiz school where 23 lives were lost.
Malaysian Bar president George Varughese said the blaze ― which is said to be the country’s worst fire tragedy involving tahfiz schools in almost three decades was reminiscent of a 1989 fire where 27 students of Kedah’s Islamic school Madrasah Taufiqiah Al-Khairiah lost their lives.
An RCI panel had investigated the 1989 fire.
In urging for the immediate formation of an RCI into this week’s fire at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz school, he highlighted that RCI investigations were previously also held for incidents where many lost their lives.
“Looking at the number of lives lost, the Malaysian Bar proposes that the Royal Commission of Inquiry be held comprehensively and openly like the public investigations on the tragedy of the platform collapse at Penang’s Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal in 1988 which claimed 32 lives, and the fire which involved the Bright Sparklers Sdn Bhd fireworks factory in Selangor in 1991 that claimed 26 lives,” he said in a statement today.
He said an RCI would help the government and the authorities to identify key issues that would not be merely limited to the cause of the fire tragedy, but could also cover issues of monitoring, effectiveness of law enforcement and registration of private religious schools and learning centres or the management of hostels.
“This investigation should also consider the need to study and review existing legal provisions that are related to these issues,” he said.
He expressed the willingness of the Malaysian Bar ― a professional body representing lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia ― to contribute its expertise and assistance in legal opinions for the RCI investigation.
Besides calling for an RCI panel to be formed, he also urged the government to investigate all tahfiz centres nationwide on their compliance to laws and the authorities’ safety standards based on existing laws such as the Local Government Act 1976 and the Fire Services Act 1988.
The government should also check to see if these tahfiz centres or hostels are licenced and have obtained the Certificate of Completion and Compliance that is required by the Ministry of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government before buildings can be used and occupied, he said.
He also urged for the tightening and review of criteria for applications to open private Islamic religious schools and learning centres or businesses offering boarding facilities.
The fire at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah tahfiz school in Kuala Lumpur is believed to be the deadliest since the 1989 fire where 27 female students of a Kedah tahfiz school were killed in their sleep.
The Islamic religious boarding school’s building reportedly lacked a certificate to declare it fit for occupation, and the school had also yet to be granted approval by the Fire and Rescue Department to start using the building.
The Fire and Rescue Department was last month reported to have recorded 211 fires at tahfiz schools throughout the country from 2015 to 2017, with RM1.4 million worth of losses in the first three months this year alone from fires at around 30 Islamic religious schools including tahfiz schools, pondok schools and madrasah.