SINGAPORE - Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai apologised on Friday (Nov 15) over two faulty fire hoses that could not be used by firemen during a serious fire on Nov 1, telling residents that he was accountable to them as their elected representative.
In his first public comments on the matter since the day of the blaze, he said: "I am clear in my mind that, as your elected representative, I am accountable to you for both issues. These incidents should not have happened and, for that, I must apologise."
He also disclosed that a contractor responsible for ensuring that there is water supply to the hoses at Block 210A, Bukit Batok Street 21 was being investigated.
Two officers from the Jurong-Clementi Town Council, which Bukit Batok single-member constituency comes under, would also be disciplined for padlocking the cabinets that housed the hoses, he added in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
The issue had come to light when firemen responding to a fire on the 13th floor of the block on Nov 1 found that they could not use the hoses.
First, the cabinets were padlocked. And after one of the padlocks was broken, the officers found that there was no water supply to the hose.
Mr Murali said he was at the scene that day and had learnt about the issues from the firemen.
"I was naturally concerned about both matters and immediately responded that the SCDF officers would have to investigate these issues," he added.
After its investigations, the SCDF announced on Nov 8 that it had issued warnings to the town council over the faulty and locked hoses.
"I must stress that SCDF took notice of the matter on the day of the fire incident itself; not later, owing to anyone else drawing attention to this matter," said Mr Murali in an apparent reference to a claim by Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan that the SCDF's follow-up with the town council came after he made a report.
Dr Chee, who had contested in Bukit Batok against Mr Murali in the 2016 by-election, had called on the MP to account for the matter after hearing from residents about the faulty hose reels.
Following the incident, the Jurong-Clementi Town Council had said, in response to media queries, that its appointed contractor had checked and certified that the hoses were in working condition just two weeks before the fire.
The town council also explained that the cabinets were locked to prevent vandalism and misuse of the hoses.
In his statement, Mr Murali explained that JKeart, the contractor responsible for maintaining the fire hoses, had insisted that there was water supply to the hoses on the day of the fire and had also provided a video to the town council as proof.
This video was shown to the SCDF earlier this week.
But after consulting the SCDF, the town council had accepted the SCDF's position on the matter and is now investigating JKeart's assertions, said Mr Murali.
Meanwhile, the town council has also identified the two people who were responsible for the cabinets being locked.
Mr Murali said the two town council officers had directed that small padlocks be used so that they can be dislodged using force.
"This was a mistake on their part. They have admitted to their mistakes. The town council management will pursue disciplinary action against them," he added.
Dr Chee, in response to Mr Murali's statement, said in a Facebook post: "I commend Mr Murali for addressing the matter of the fire incident at Blk 210A at (Bukit Batok) 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."
He also took credit for eliciting responses from Mr Murali and the town council, saying that he had taken the time to do his homework to establish the facts and also persistently questioned the People's Action Party MP and the town council.
He cited the matter as a prime example of how an effective and responsible opposition should work to put pressure on those in positions of authority.
"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," he added referring to Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.
The fire on Nov 1 had started in a one-room flat on the 13th floor of the block.
The family living there - an elderly couple and their son - had been rescued and hospitalised for burn injuries and smoke inhalation.
Mr Murali said he has visited them in hospital along with community volunteers.
Referring to one of the victims as Madam Goh, he said he knew her personally and she "still figures in my prayers every day".
He added that she was still in the intensive care unit (ICU), while her son was transferred to the high-dependency ward after a few days in the ICU and her husband has been discharged.
He also said that on the day of the fire, after the three victims were sent to hospital, he and his volunteers had channelled their energies to helping the affected families living on the 14th and 15th floors of the block.
"They were not able to use their toilets, draw water, etc because the service pipes were damaged by the fire on the 13th floor. Through the coordination of our community volunteers, HDB and town council, we managed to restore services in record time. We distributed emergency relief packages for affected families," he said.
"I also met and thanked several residents who helped with the evacuation during the (fire)."