Tue, 18 Mar 2003

Most govt buildings are fire hazards

Damar Harsanto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Most high-rise government buildings have no proper systems for protecting their records and important documents from fire, with most of them also being susceptible to fire mainly due to the negligence of building managers.

"We have warned all managers of high-rise government buildings here to improve their fire safety systems so as to protect their documents and records against fire, but they always make the excuse that their departments have yet to allocate any funds for such systems," complained City Fire Chief Johnny Pangaribuan.

Johnny also complained that many government officials simply ignored the danger of fire.

"For instance, we have found that most of the sprinklers in these (government) offices are in poor condition due to lack of maintenance and obvious negligence regarding regularly checks," explained Johnny.

Important state documents, especially confidential ones, Johnny said, were among the items that needed to be protected by special safety equipment, for instance by providing automatic sprinklers or fireproof safety cabinets.

"There must be automatic safety equipment provided to protect the documents and data," Johnny said, adding that automatic circuit breakers were also desirable to cut off the electricity if a short circuit occurred.

According to Johnny, many government buildings, especially the older ones, were in dire need of more careful checks and maintenance due to aging equipment and fire safety systems.

Johnny recalled that the extent of the recent fire that badly damaged the sixth floor of the finance ministry building and destroyed important data on state assets was not only the result of arson as stated by the police, but also negligence.

Johnny showed The Jakarta Post three official letters sent in August last year to the finance ministry warning that the building management needed to improve most of the fire equipment and fire protection systems in the ministry's three main high- rise buildings.

In the letters, the city fire department pointed out that some fire equipment and protection systems failed to meet the standards required by the regulations.

The letters detailed the building management's failure to maintain hydrants, sprinklers, fire alarms, portable extinguishers, fire exits, fire lifts, emergency lamps for fire escape signs, emergency phones, fireproof electricity cables and fireproof exit doors.

In addition, the letters also castigated building managers for not having regular fire drills and checks by the city fire department as part as the fire safety precautions required by City Bylaw No. 3 of 1992 on the prevention and avoidance of fire hazards.

Police declared earlier last week that the fire in the finance ministry building was an act of arson based on the results of the investigation carried out by the police forensic laboratory.

Police found traces of kerosene in four places, which were believed to have been where the fire originated, something that was at odds with the fact that the office kitchen used liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

Suspicion has been rife among the public, including NGOs such as Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW), that the arson attack was meant to destroy evidence of corruption on the part of unscrupulous government officials.

ICW coordinator, Teten Masduki recalled that acts of arson had also damaged other government buildings, like one of the Bank Indonesia towers in December 1997, and the Ministry of Industry and Trade building in December 2001, both of which fires also destroyed important documents.

Finance minister Budiono stated on Sunday that all the documents could be recovered, but it would take some time.

He also vowed that there would be no manipulation in the refiling of the data.