Mahdia COI: Fmr. Education Officer did not review fire inspection report although told of urgency


Though she received a report highlighting fire defects at the Mahdia Secondary School dormitory and was told of the urgency, former Regional Education Officer of Region Eight, Annesta Douglas said she did not review the report.

Instead, it was placed in an ‘urgent dip’ file on her desk.

No action was taken since she gave preference to other matters such as teachers’ salaries.

All this was done without a simple review of the report.

Douglas made this disclosure when she testified before the ongoing Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the Mahdia tragedy on Thursday.

She told the Commission that she received a report on February 7, 2023, from the Officer in Charge of the Mahdia Fire Station, Ryan Scott after an inspection was conducted at the female dormitory.

During that inspection, Scott said it was determined that there were no fire alarms and no fire or smoke detectors in the building. As such, he said a series of recommendations were made to ensure this is addressed in the event of a fire.

“Mr Scott delivered this report to me on the 7 February 2023, I received them and I placed it into my urgent dip. When Mr Scott bought the report, he said to be me sorry to be late, let us see what we can do with the recommendation,” Douglas told the Commission which is chaired by Major General (Ret’d) Joe Singh.

According to Douglas, the inspection report was among a series of others that were handed over to her at once.

And admitting that she continued with her work, Douglas told attorney Keoma Griffith, who is leading evidence into the inquiry, that she did not look at the report.

“Because it’s a lot of work and we are always understaffed,” she said.

Douglas further said that she could not immediately hand the report over to her superior, the Regional Executive Officer (REO), Peter Ramotar since he was out of the region at the time.

“Did you understand from this report that urgent action was needed? Did you understand it had to do with lives and it was your failure to act that resulted in the lives of 20 children?” Griffith asked Douglas.

Former Regional Education Officer of Region Eight, Annesta Douglas before the CoI

Douglas briefly responded, “Yes sir. It is the first time I am reading the report…it would be really appreciative if you would allow me to explain.”

It was at this point that Douglas went on to explain to the Commission that her focus was shifted after she learned the following day through the Principal Personnel Officer that she was being reassigned.

Douglas told the Commission that that was not the first time she was being reassigned as she was in 2021 before she was placed in Mahdia in 2022.

“She said to me REO you were transferred and I said ‘again’ and I begin to relive the pain of 2021 because this report should have been discussed with the REO upon receipt,” Douglas said.

She added, “When I was removed and I went to central ministry, they didn’t know where to put me…I was going back and forth…I endured one year of humiliation, mental pain, and hurt and I sat at that desk under harsh conditions.”

Subsequent to this, Douglas told the Commission that she pleaded for the one week that was given to her to transition to be extended to allow a “proper” handing over but this was denied.

“For the region what was urgent what was for me to leave,” Douglas said.

Asked specifically what prevented her from acting on the report, Douglas reiterated “I was preparing to leave, I was working to hand over my government quarter to the Department of Education because that was deemed as urgent”.

During the handing over of the office, Douglas stated that she brought the urgency of the report to the Deputy Regional Executive Officer, Shaun Britton.

Britton took the witness stand before the CoI following Douglas.

And when he testified under oath, Britton said he received documents, keys, and other government property from Douglas when she handed over her officer.

But he was clear to state that at no point did Douglas inform him the report needed “urgent attention”.

“I did go through the folders and I didn’t see anything of urgent importance,” Britton said.

As a matter of fact, Britton told the Commission that the report from Scott was included in the folder of documents that Douglas handed over to him.

“The first time I saw this document was the morning of the fire…in fact when I received a call about this report, I started my own probe,” he said.

Asked by attorney Kim Kyte-Thomas if the report was brought to his attention what action he would have taken, Britton said would have put necessary systems in place to ensure the issues were addressed.

“My first thing would have been to call the regional engineer and the region is fortunate to have two engineers so if one is in the field…another is available…So would ask them to look at the issue at prepare a bill,” Britton said.

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