Mahdia school dorm was not in top 5 to be fixed – CEO tells COI


Although deficiencies were detected within dormitory facilities across the country in the past, the Mahdia Secondary School female dormitory was not included in the top five that were prioritised for urgent renovation.

“There are 24 dormitory facilities and the top five which needed fixing were identified by the engineering firm that did the report for the Ministry of Education. Mahdia was not in that five…which means that it was not as urgent as some of the others,” Chief Education Officer, Saddam Hussain disclosed on Tuesday during his testimony before the ongoing Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI).

He explained, “If you examine the costing of some of the repairs, that made a lot of sense. There are dorms that needed, in some cases $222M, to repair like Sand Creek. There are some dorms that require $180M, Anna Regina which is being done currently, and so onMahdia dorms repair [it was a] small amount, $90M.”

President Irfaan Ali ordered a CoI into the tragedy which claimed the lives of 20 children after another student reportedly set the dorms on fire.

When he took the witness stand, Hussain said a previous CoI into the education system, in addition to a report from UNICEF, pointed out issues at dormitories across the country.

The top three issues he said were lack of firefighting equipment, poor infrastructure and staffing.

The aftermath of the horrific fire at Mahdia

“In that report, it was pointed out that there were deficiencies within the dormitory facilities of Guyana,” Hussain said.

He added, “The dorms did not become what they are in 2020. It was a long series of neglect which position the dorms where they are.”

And when the recommendations were passed onto the officials on the ground, Hussain said they did not raise any fire prevention issues. Rather, they asked for an extension of the dormitory and highlighted the supply of electricity and water as the issues which were affecting them.

And as part of the education sector plan from 2021 to 2025, Hussain said the Ministry of Education took a decision to “take a look into the dorms.”

“…I was copied in an email which suggested to me that the report was copied to the Minister of Finance, as well as the Minister of Local Government, and from that, I gathered it was laid in Cabinet. I also gathered from the email that there was an immediate decision by Cabinet to move ahead with the correction of things that needed to be done,” Hussain told the CoI.

Asked by attorney Kim Kyte-Thomas about where the implementation process is currently, Hussain said some $882 million has been expended on fixing dorms across the country.

“Every single dormitory is outfitted with firefighting equipment and tools. I am happy to say that more than 70 per cent of all dorms have started rehabilitation or would have completed rehabilitation and …before the first quarter of the next year, that would be completed. I am also happy to say that staffing in the dorms expected for Region Two has been completed.”

He added, “More than 70 percent of the dorms are either under construction or would have completed construction.”

Hussain further pointed out there are instances whereby the rehabilitation of some dormitories is delayed since it would require the closure of the facilities.

“This is not something that would take two weeks, three weeks, this is something that would take months. In some cases, the roof has to be raised so there can’t be any children around. In some cases, you got to break down the whole wall to insert some windows,” he said.

Only a portion of Hussain’s testimony was open to the media. The remaining was held in camera.

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