Mahdia fire: Lawyer calls for probe into conduct of Chief Fire Officer, former deputy RDEO

-says dormitory was not in a state of preparedness

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By Sharda Bacchus

Shardabacchus@newsroom.gy

The Mahdia secondary school dormitory was not in any state of preparedness when the fire broke out in May claiming the lives of 20 children and though authorities were previously informed of existing problems at the facility and even possible solutions, no immediate action was taken.

This is according to attorney Keoma Griffith, who on Thursday, told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that they should review the conduct of the Chief Fire Officer, Gregory Wickham and former Regional Deputy Education Officer, Annesta Douglas, who both failed to act on recommendations to address issues which plagued the dormitory prior to the fire.

The deficiencies were detailed and outlined in a report prepared just months before the tragedy by the officer-in-charge of the Mahdia fire station, Ryan Scott.

Chief Fire Officer, Gregory Wickham and former Regional Deputy Education Officer, Annesta Douglas

“It is clear that this report was concise and sought to inform all of the necessary players of the systems that were required for fire prevention at the Mahdia dormitory. The report also appropriately concluded that the requirements set out therein were necessary in the interest of saving lives and property,” Griffith told the Commission in his closing submissions.

“I will ask this Commission to consider…This report is a report that should have been taken seriously, that required urgent attention and no effort should be spared in the implementation of all of the relevant requirements and recommendations contained therein,” the attorney contended.

When he testified before the CoI, Scott indicated that just months before the fire, he told his superiors about the absence of the firefighting tools. At that time, the station’s lone 12-year-old tender had a number of deficiencies but he said little to no action was taken.

Out of all the evidence given by the 29 witnesses, Griffith emphasized on the testimonies of Douglas, Wickham, Scott and Chief Education Officer (CEO) Saddam Hussain.

Turning his attention to the education sector, Griffith reminded the Commission that Scott’s report was not the first to highlight the issues that plagued the dormitory.

He said an inquiry was conducted into the sector in 2017 with emphasis being placed on the deplorable state of dormitories, and again, while recommendations were made for improvements, no action was taken by the authorities.

These recommendations included the implementation of smoke detectors, fire alarms and other fire prevention mechanisms.

“I certainly regret Commissioners that…the Mahdia dormitory was not in the top five of the dorms which required essential action. In fact, we were told by the CEO…that preparing the report also included consultation by stakeholders…and in that consultation the only issues from Mahdia that were raised were instability of light and water,” Griffith said.

The 20 victims of the Mahdia Secondary School dorm fire.

In keeping with the Terms of Reference, the CoI is mandated to inquire into and report on everything leading up to the dormitory fire as well as the cause of the fire.

They will also investigate and report on what actions were taken to provide care, medical attention, and support to the injured and deceased and their relatives, in a timely manner.

Thereafter, recommendations are expected from the commission, which will include necessary measures to prevent a reoccurrence of such tragedies.

In commending the efforts of first responders, especially those in the medical field, Griffith said he believes the Commission has sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the highest level of care and support was provided during and after the tragedy to those affected.

“The truth is Commissioners, there is so much more support based on evidence that has been provided by the Commission,” he said.

Griffith, therefore, concluded that the Commission is in a position to “competently” and “effectively” present its findings in keeping with its mandate.

“…I am confident that based on all the evidence that is before this Commission, all the reports, all the statements that were tendered, if you look at the transcripts, you would see this Commission is in a position to competently and effectively provide its findings in writing,” he said.

The findings and recommendations of the CoI, Griffith said are “essential” to ensuring that there is closure in this matter and also an efficient and effective documentation of what transpired at the time of and after the tragedy.

Public hearings into the CoI commenced on September 15.

Following a one-month extension, the Commission has until November month end to compile a report with its findings and present it to President Dr Irfaan Ali.

The Commission is chaired by Major General (Ret’d) Joe Singh. The two other Commissioners are attorney Dr Kim Kyte-Thomas and Chairman of the National Toshaos Council Derick John.

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