Dilapidated rural schools are fast becoming a fire hazard and the latest fire to partially destroy another school – the seventh since March this year – has literally got the Sarawak PKR leader Baru Bian all fired up.
Taking up the prime minister’s appeal to the people for Malaysia to contribute ideas for his Budget 2017, the Ba Kelalan assemblyman has this small thought for Datuk Seri Najib Razak to consider when drawing up the Budget.
Najib, the second-term lawmaker said, should make it a point to fulfil all past promises and ensure sufficient allocation to execute the “fancy Education Blueprint plans” before making more empty promises to the rakyat.
He also said the federal government has to show the people of Sarawak “more respect and sincerity” after reading the Monday afternoon fire that destroyed two blocks of SK Sungai Sugai.
The wooden 50-year-old boarding school is just outside the rural town of Pakan in central Sarawak.
There were no casualties as the fire broke out well after school hours.
However by the time the first fire engine arrived from the nearest station 53km away, the fire had razed three classrooms housing Primary 1 to 3 classes, a remedial classroom, a resource room, a library, the staff room, the general office, and the headmaster’s office.
The school reportedly did not have any fire-fighting equipment, not even fire extinguishers, and worn-out old wiring was suspected to have caused a short circuit that triggered the fire.
The state of Sarawak’s rural schools is an indicator of the country’s rot, according to Baru.
“Seven schools in seven months is too high a number, and is indicative of the neglect our rural schools have been subject to over the past few decades.
“It appears that our schools are places of high fire risk and this is highly unacceptable.”
At the last count, it was reported there are about 800 schools in rural Sarawak that are continued to be used despite being them being certified unsafe and unfit for use.
Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing Minister Datuk Fatimah Abdullah said there were now only 669 such schools with 486 classified to be in dilapidated condition and 183 classified as very dilapidated that needed immediate attention.
Fatimah said it could cost “billions” to repair these schools.
Baru, however, is unrelenting and is demanding the prime minister show the people of Sarawak the money before making more promises like what he and other Barisan Nasional did in the Sarawak state election earlier this year.
Questions are also raised on the ‘shifts’ of the Education Blueprint for 2013-25, one of which was to “ensure 100 per cent of schools meet basic infrastructure requirements by 2015, starting with Sabah and Sarawak”.
“When will the Federal government take us seriously?
“How galling for us to read about the RM2.6 billion channelled into a bank account, the RM114million …and counting … Sabah Water Board scandal, the RM650 million to be spent on Taman Tugu in Kuala Lumpur when our schoolchildren do not even have proper schools in which to study.”
Can Malaysia claim it is a developed nation when schoolchildren in rural areas are subjected to studying and living in damaged, decaying and derelict buildings?
We can never.
That, Baru said, is the ultimate betrayal of the people who entrust their future to lawmakers and decision makers.