A DAP assemblyperson who used a fire incident to justify his call to stop renting wooden houses to migrant workers has sparked accusations of discrimination.
However, Pandamaran assemblyperson Tony Leong maintains that he was not being discriminatory and was reacting to many similar incidents of fire.
The controversy started when Leong posted on Facebook about four houses being burnt down along Jalan Jambu, in Klang, Selangor.
Leong said the incident was due to negligence by migrant workers while cooking.
"We appeal to all villagers not to rent wooden houses to foreign workers. We have to unite to avoid unpleasant incidents," he had said.
His social media post courted criticism, with many accusing him of discrimination and arguing that the issue of fire hazards should not be seen through ethnic lenses.
Leong defended his post and said migrant workers could be careless sometimes.
"Wooden houses are more flammable. Foreign workers can sometimes be careless, so don't rent wooden houses to them.
"It's better for them to live in brick houses. Even if there is a fire, it won't easily spread to neighbouring homes," he replied to one of the comments criticising him.
Leong, when contacted, maintained that he did not intend to discriminate against migrant workers.
On the contrary, Leong claimed he wanted better housing conditions for them, such as flats, apartments or other brick houses.
"Perhaps my wording caused some misunderstanding, but what I was trying to say was that the government and employers should take responsibility.
"I'm not saying people should not rent any house to them. If it's flats or apartments, then it's okay.
"So it's not true to say that I discriminate against migrant workers," he added.
Leong said the government should enact laws preventing locals from renting out wooden houses, which are more flammable, to migrant workers.
He also suggested that the government should consider Singapore's model of centralised housing for migrant workers.
"It would be easier for management. I know migrant workers have contributed a lot to Malaysia and their housing conditions are really bad," he said.
Leong said since he was elected as the Pandamaran assemblyperson in 2018, he had received reports of a number of fires caused by migrant workers when they were cooking.
In contrast, he said incidents involving locals tend to be due to electrical fires.
"I've dealt with three fire cases involving migrant workers. I feel sorry for them. But every time when I go to the ground, the residents will ask 'why don't you stop migrant workers from renting wooden houses?'
"So I think Malaysia needs effective laws to solve these problems," he said.
Maintaining that he was not being discriminatory, Leong said he also sought help from NGOs to provide food for migrant workers during the partial lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, DAP national organising secretary Anthony Loke said he would seek clarification from Leong on his comments.