Taipei mayor admits to ‘lax oversight’ after fatal fire at karaoke club

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je / CNA photo April 26, 2020

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said Wednesday that “lax oversight” on the part of the city government had contributed to deadly fire at a popular karaoke club in the city last Sunday.

“We will conduct an internal investigation and those in charge will be held accountable for any negligence,” Ko said, in a grilling session with city councilors about the fire at Cashbox Partyworld KTV on Linsen North Road, which claimed the lives of five patrons and left scores injured.

During the session, Kuomintang (KMT) city councilors asked how the fire had occurred in a building that had passed all of the 20 safety checks carried out there since 2018.

They demanded that municipal authorities be held accountable and improve their performance on the job.

In particular, Taipei Fire Department Commissioner Wu Jun-hung (吳俊鴻) was peppered with questions, especially about the routine fire safety checks that had been carried out on the building prior to the blaze.

KMT city councilors Chen Ping-fu (陳炳甫) and Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) asked why the fire protection equipment such as the emergency lights, sprinkler, smoke extractor, fire alarm, and public address systems were non-functional on Sunday — four days after an inspection of the building.

In response, Wu admitted that the inspectors from his department had not checked those five systems during their random inspection of the Cashbox Partyworld building on April 26, which took only 20 minutes, but he said the systems were all found to be functional in an earlier regular safety inspection on March 30.

Also on Wednesday, Deputy Interior Minister Hua Ching-chun (花敬群) said all local governments throughout the country must carry out comprehensive fire safety inspections of karaoke clubs and similar venues.

According to Taipei Deputy Mayor Vivian Huang (黃珊珊), the city will complete those inspections by May 1.

She also called for amendments to the current regulations, which only allow for the temporary closure of such businesses so they can make the necessary improvements within a specific period of time. Regarding the Cashbox Partyworld fire, Huang said all matters relating to the accident “will be handled in accordance with law and in a transparent manner” and that anyone found guilty will be held accountable.

Since Sunday’s fire, five cinemas and one KTV club in Taipei have been closed temporarily and asked to improve their fire safety facilities within three days.

Meanwhile, the city’s Department of Legal Affairs said in a statement that it will do its best to protect the rights and interests of victims of the Sunday’s fire and their families.

The department said it will call a meeting of all parties concerned and will set up a one-stop window to provide legal consultations, in cooperation with the Legal Aid Foundation.

Taipei City Councilor Angela Ying (應曉薇) of the KMT, who has formed a self-help group for the fire victims, has asked the city’s departments of labor, social affairs and civil affairs to offer financial assistance to those who may have suffered physical injuries or lost their jobs as a result of the fire.