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This nation is grieving, and there is an absence of leadership that could assure a hurting and traumatised people everything will be ok. We continue to see a government lurching from one crisis to another, more concerned about scoring cheap publicity points than attending to the pain, anguish and deprivation of the people.
Our resources, which in this moment they manage, are not being used efficiently and effectively for the benefit of all. There is no interest in the national interest and common good, only the desire to promote these siren flashing moments to mask the pretense of doing something worthwhile. When the glaring lights are off and the sirens go quiet, we look around, and all we see they have left in their wake is greater mismanagement of our resources. The people’s needs remain unmet.
It remains very painful and profoundly sad that, at the beginning of Youth Week, here, in Guyana on May 22, a few days before Independence, Guyanese woke up to the unbelievable news of a tragedy, the first of its kind, in the history of Guyana, at the Mahdia Secondary School female dormitory, Region 8. Nineteen girls perished in a massive fire; many more badly injured from the flames, at that dormitory.
I must extend sincere condolences to the parents, siblings, relatives and friends of those, who died in that fire. Words cannot explain or excuse the loss of lives of our nation’s children. How the families of these precious ones and the nation get through this sadness and emerge stronger, kinder and united, remain unknown. There is no vision, no plan to get us there.
No one can deny that accidents and disasters do occur in every nation. However, this tragedy-and many others, including the easy escape of Royden Williams from maximum security, and increasing number of accidents on our roadways- is, in substance, a demonstration of the incumbent’s gross and worrying inability to keep our nation safe from harm.
Even with an abundance of oil money, the government continues to show great incompetence, and unsteady hands, in managing the affairs of this nation. Doling out money to the poor cannot be substituted for good governance, and effective and representative government.
It is very clear to me, and, I am sure, to all Guyanese, that Central Government must take full responsibility for this unnecessary loss of lives; they must be held accountable for this tragedy that could have been prevented if not for the unprecedented negligence by a government/ PPP/C, who boast constantly about caring for citizens.
In this year’s budget, 2023, the government allocated $94.4B for Education, $136.1B to Ministry of Public Works, $2.7B to Amerindian Affairs Ministry, Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development $71.5B, and Ministry of Home Affairs received an allocation of $58.6B. The providence of this information serves to advise our problem, in this instance, is not the allocation of financial resources but effective and efficient management to serve our common good.
The government, in whom parents had faithfully entrusted the care and protection of their children, could not keep these girls safe. I rather suspect that, an appropriate audit of schools, particularly in far- flung areas of this country would readily reveal, that there are many more schools with conditions similar to the one, at Mahdia.
The government has been withdrawing Billions from the Natural Resource Fund (NRF), but Mahdia has nearly no public firefighting equipment, and very poor and inadequate public health and other medical, social and community facilities.
The government is busy constructing roads, bridges and doing other infrastructural works. But the health and safety, and the general wellbeing of citizens appear to be at the bottom of its list of priorities.The government cannot be so naïve to think that the vast majority of Guyanese are fooled by its pretentious posture of love and care.
It is to the discredit of the Ministry of Education that with so much money, and after six major school fires, in Guyana, over the last three years, there has been no publicly known plan to enhance fire prevention and fire- fighting, in schools and other institutions of learning.
No comprehensive planning, no commission of inquiry, no investigation of current fire fighting systems in schools, and no aggressive public awareness and public education about fire prevention in schools. This is inspite of the fact that government controls and/ or is aligned to a significant percentage of the local media.
How is it possible for the Ministry of Education to not have known the negative and hazardous condition existing at that school? If it did then why was it left unattended?
This fire has brought to the fore, certain basic questions:
- What were the protocols in place for the prevention of such disasters?
- Where was the dormitory attendant at the time of the fire?
- Why were the doors locked, and windows grilled in a way that made it impossible for children to get out of the building in the event of a fire?
- Who was in possession of the keys?
- How often did the ministry’s representative visited?
- How often was the building inspected for fire hazards?
- Was the building fitted with adequate firefighting equipment, smoke alarms, and an automatic fire sprinkler system in every dormitory room and every level of housing facilities?
- Are there security personnel on the premises?
Surely, this national tragedy requires more than simplistic explanations and assurances. A Commission of Inquiry (COI) should not be ruled out, but we need one with Terms of Reference drafted and approved with the involvement of all stakeholders.
Our children, their parents, the community of Mahdia/Region 8 and others around Guyana do not care for the partisan politics, they want assurances this tragedy won’t happen again and justice will be served for the aggrieved.
The responsible ministers and ministries must be held accountable for this unnecessary and clearly preventable tragedy that has befallen our nation. This callousness by the government must not stand.
Citizens, we can do much better than what this government is doing for our country. We ask for and deserve change. We are the change we have been waiting for. Let’s rise. We must unleash our power to make the government understand that it is failing in its obligations to us. We have got to take a stand against this high level of incompetence and bad governance. Unless we do, our nation would remain unsafe and undeveloped. We can do much better, Guyana. Let’s rise!