Blackout hits 369 rural schools

It is a gloomy start to the new schooling session for 369 rural schools across the state today as they have little or no fuel for the generators (gen-sets) to power up their fans, lights, computers and other appliances.

It is said that Kapit Division, covering Kapit, Song and Belaga districts, has the highest number of schools affected – 60. This is followed by Miri Division with 57.

The failure to supply fuel for the gen-sets before the expiry of the supply contract has left these schools – from SK Salak in Kuching to SK Long Tengoa in Lawas – to bear the brunt of it.

It is understood that a group of contractors had been given the ‘Electricity Supply Service Contract – Year 2015 to 2016’ for the operations and maintenance of gen-sets in rural schools in Sarawak.

The Education Ministry, through its Procurement and Asset Management Division, had, via a letter dated Dec 16 last year, instructed all these contractors to fill up the diesel tanks at these schools before the expiry of their supply contracts by Dec 31, warning them of closure of their accounts should they fail to oblige.

Sources told The Borneo Post that the 30 contractors tasked with filling up skid tanks at these schools for the 2015-2016 period were summoned to Kuching for a meeting on Dec 17 to refill the tanks.

It is learnt that during that meeting, the contractors argued there was nothing in the contracts that made it mandatory for them to refill the tanks before expiry of their service term.

However, they were willing to undertake the job if two conditions were met, namely (1) if they were paid under variation order by the ministry, and (2) they would proceed only if the rate had been finalised.

Sources also said schools in Long San, Long Tungan, Long Banga, Long Lamei in Baram and others in Belaga, Kapit and Song were already on very low supply of or without any fuel yesterday. Attempts by the school authorities to contact previous contractors also failed, further adding to the frustration.

A source from Kapit said it was a similar scenario there, where most of the rural schools were dependent on fuel-powered gen-sets to provide electricity.

This gloomy situation will affect the students and teachers the most at night in that they might have to resort to lighting candles or oil lamps to study and do revisions.

When contacted, TelangUsan state assemblyman Dennis Ngau said he had tried to seek clarifications from the authorities after learning that SK St Pius in Long San had ran out of fuel supply for its gen-set yesterday.

He also called up the chairman of Baram Headmasters Association, who had just been informed of the problem.

“I don’t know what is going on, but this is not the first case as we do have problems with Putrajaya with regard to the contractors. I don’t care who get the job to supply fuel, but they must deliver the service as stated in their contracts.

“I’m really worried for the kids in boarding schools. They may resort to using candles, which is dangerous,” he said.

Dennis also said he had heard that a new contractor had been appointed but was unsure of the identity.

Officials from the Education Department were unavailable yesterday for comments as it was a public holiday.

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