Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Dr Chee Soon Juan said the Bukit Batok fire hose reel issue is a prime example of how the opposition should work.
His comments came hours after ruling party MP Murali Pillai apologised for the lapses uncovered by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) with regards to a fire that broke out at Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21 on Nov 1.
After a raging blaze broke out at the 13th-storey unit at the HDB block,SCDF firefighters found that the fire hose reel cabinets at the block were padlocked and discovered that there was no water supply for the hose reel when they broke one of the padlocks.
The problems with the fire hose reel is said to have delayed the rescue attempt and the SCDF subsequently revealed it issued Fire Hazard Abatement Notices to Jurong-Clementi Town Council (JCTC) over these two issues. JCTC later said the fire hose reel was in normal working condition two weeks prior to the fire but added that it accepts the SCDF’s report that it was not working when the fire occurred.
Dr Chee visited the flat where the fire broke out, contacted the SCDF and asked them to investigate the issue and wrote an open letter to Mr Pillai asking him to be transparent about the incident and tell Bukit Batok residents exactly what happened. Mr Pillai did not respond.
The ruling party parliamentarian finally broke his silence on the matter yesterday (Nov 15), nearly two weeks after the fire. He apologised on Facebook and revealed that two town council staff who had padlocked the hose reel will face disciplinary action brought on by the town council management.
Acknowledging that he is politically accountable to Bukit Batok residents as their elected representative, Mr Pillai said that he was there at the scene when the fire was raging and that his immediate focus was on helping the affected residents.
Hours after Mr Pillai published his apology, Dr Chee commended his response and said that this incident is a prime example of how the opposition should work. Revealing that it is the people who will benefit from an effective opposition that holds elected officials accountable, Dr Chee wrote on Facebook:
“I commend Mr Murali for addressing the matter of the fire incident at Blk 210A at BB and the points that I raised in my previous posts. I am gratified to note that the Town Council is investigating the inconsistencies and dubious practices, and that it will take action where needed.
“This matter is a prime example of how the opposition should work: to put pressure on those in positions of authority to account to the people.
“Taking the time and effort to do our homework (in this instance, talking to the BB residents, inspecting the fire equipment, and gathering feedback) allowed us to establish facts that the JCTC could not ignore or deny.
“Then came the probing and persistent questioning of the PAP MP and town council officials which resulted in the initial piecemeal release of information by JCTC but, finally, a full accounting by Mr Murali.
“This is the work of a responsible and effective opposition. Ultimately, it is the people who benefit.”
Dr Chee added that he was careful not to let the matter devolve into a personal attack against his political opponent and that he acted in the manner he did because of the critical nature of the incident:
“I have been careful not to let the matter degenerate into a personal attack against Mr Murali (like calling him to perform hara-kiri a la a certain Mr Khaw) but, at the same time, it was important to hold his feet to the fire because of the gravity of the situation.”
Promising that this is how his party will continue to conduct itself if elected into Parliament, the opposition leader asserted: “That’s how politics should be conducted, without fear but always in a professional and principled manner devoid of character assassination and personal ruin. That’s how the SDP will conduct itself in Parliament.”