See statement below from the A New and United Guyana (ANUG):
The deaths of 19 children trapped behind locked doors and grilled windows at the Mahdia Female Dormitory has horrified the nation. Our citizens have helplessly watched in shared sorrow as events came to light. Very quickly, anger and outrage have replaced that sorrow. We now see the growing call for ‘justice’; our citizens need someone to blame, to hold responsible for the tragedy.
It has come to light that there were no fire prevention measures and no fire detection measures, and no administrative system of oversight to ensure the safety of the sleeping school children. The firefighting service is woefully inadequate in the mining town of Mahdia, and no one seems to know how the custodian/person responsible was unable to help before the fire to grow out of control.
The government has flooded media outlets with pictures of caring and sympathetic
Ministers, and have made lavish promises of relief to families of victims, all in the hope that this will detract attention from any question of accountability. The stratagem has not worked: the Leader of the Opposition has called for the resignation of the Ministers of Education and Home Affairs.
ANUG agrees with the Leader of the Opposition: the Ministers must be held accountable. They ought to have expected and been prepared for fire, and taken safety precautions as a matter of a standard and fixed system of operation. This is not the first fire at a school during this administration. In the short period since its return to office in 2020, this administration has experienced fires at North Ruimveldt Multilateral in June, 2021, at Northwest Secondary in September, 2021, at St George’s Secondary in July, 2022, at Amelia’s Ward Primary in September, 2022, and at Christ Church in January, 2023. In each case, the incident was characterized by unpreparedness of the administration, by absence of smoke detectors, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, fire response systems.
Each of these fires presented an easy lesson which should have alerted even the most inept of leaders that a fire prevention, alarm and safety system was urgently needed in our schools.
At what point must Guyanese all agree that a lesson ought to have been learned, and the Ministers with oversight of schools and social protection should have realized that perhaps the implementation of a fire prevention and fire safety system might be a good idea? Why do our leaders wait for nineteen children to die before someone says ‘A system should be in place.’
To make matters worse, this building was designed for security, and the children were locked in behind grilled bars with no easy escape from a clear fire hazard. Did no one think of safety?
The responsibility must lie with our leaders, who are proven time and again to be woefully incompetent at any aspect of the real work of governance.
But the irony cannot be lost that the main opposition party has demonstrated equal incompetence during their term in office. That administration experienced a fire at the Drop-in Centre at Sophia in July, 2016, where two boys perished and 19 managed to escape. The Inquiry ordered by President Granger concluded that there were ‘systematic failures at all levels’. No systems were implemented: just one year later, in June, 2017, a fire at the Juvenile Detention Centre in Sophia resulted in some children being rushed to hospital when someone set alight a mattress.
Equally damning: On March3, 2016, 17 inmates were killed when a fire was started at the Camp Street Prison. The administration did not learn from that ‘easy lesson’. Just one year later, on 9th July, 2017, the Camp Street prison was razed to the ground by a second fire. A frustrated editorial from the Stabroek News observed: ‘Despite the lessons that should have been learned from last year’s deadly fire at the Camp Street prison, witnesses say both the Guyana Fire Service and Guyana Water Inc (GWI) were not prepared for the fire that devastated the jail on Sunday.’ The political opposition of the day labelled the Granger government ‘bumbling, inept, and incompetent.’
It is ironic that, now, the Leader of the Opposition calls for resignations. From the perspective of simple incompetence, can Guyanese distinguish between the Government and the Main Opposition?
Guyana has endured a tragedy which is all the more grievous because it was foreseeable and preventable, but for the gross incompetence of our leaders. So the question remains: who is to blame? As long as we are prepared to overlook or excuse incompetence, corruption, mismanagement by our leaders in the firm belief that ‘our’ party is better than the ‘other’ party – is the lesser of two evils – then we are all to blame. As long as we vote for ethnicity, ignoring the steady decline of all societal standards, of health, of education, of living standards, of roads, of drains, of crime prevention, we are all to be blamed for the 19 children who died in Mahdia as a result of indifferent incompetence.