… US$5million Health Ministry razed
“Anytime there are political events in the country this building always gets threats. It’s one of the first buildings that people would threaten but nothing really ever happened in the past.”- Minister Ramsammy
(By Mondale smith)
An inferno that lit up the morning skies for close to two hours yesterday, left in its wake an estimated $1B in destruction at the Health Ministry’s main office. Arson is suspected to be the cause.
Police confirmed that they recovered several incendiary devices (‘channa bombs’) at the scene and this seemed to confirm that the blaze, which razed the historic structure, was deliberately set.
Kaieteur News understands police ranks found two of the ‘channa bombs’ in a building which escaped the blaze; four others in a bag in the vicinity of the Vaccination Centre, and another under a car.
This publication was at the scene when the police removed several of the suspected Molotov cocktails from the compound just after 03:00hrs.
But investigators are puzzled as to how the arsonists could have sneaked into the compound, which was guarded by three security staffers; two women and one man.
Police were up to late yesterday evening still questioning two of the guards at the Brickdam Police Station.
In its wake, the fire destroyed two buildings that housed the Health Minister and Permanent Secretary’s offices and the Administrative Department.
The buildings also housed all the records of the Ministry and the health centres, the Accounts Department, the Diseases Control Unit and the registry as well as the records for the pharmacies and medical professionals.
The buildings also housed records of every local medical professional in Guyana.
At about 3:00hrs yesterday “three loud cracking” sounds awoke residents in Hadfield Street. When they looked outside they saw “fire and smoke coming from the top western section” of the Health Ministry’s building.
The fire service was summoned. Witnesses said that they arrived less than ten minutes after the first call, but by then the fire was raging throughout the main building, which was a national heritage site.
Persons in night attire flocked to the scene from all locations and some lent physical support to the fire fighting.
Though not in a position to pronounce on the cause of the fire, Health Minister Dr Ramsammy said that according to police, they found explosive devices around the building.
He said that on those grounds it appears to be the work of arsonists but he said it will be left up to the police to make the final determination.
“This is an unfortunate loss” one resident said from a heritage stand point, but commended the fire service for containing the fire to the one building.
Fire fighters fought the raging flames from every angle and managed to contain it to the main buildings.
Upon arrival at the scene, this publication watched as public-spirited citizens and ministry staffers pushed to safety, 50 vehicles, including ambulances, parked in the compound while three belonging to the Blood Bank were destroyed.
As he watched his office burn from the Hadfield Street entrance, Dr Ramsammy fought back tears. He said that the building housed a lot of irreplaceable records and documents.
As the blaze raged, public-spirited citizens and Health Ministry staffers swung into action to assist in dousing the flames to save what they could.
Some Ministry employees upon hearing of the tragedy gathered in pockets, with eyes welled up; some were heard talking of their valuables burnt to cinder in their offices.
Some even pondered what their future employment status would be as a result of the fire.
“Security is an issue and I’m sure that when everything is done and we analyse, we will find breaches again,” Dr Ramsammy told reporters at the scene yesterday morning.
As is the case in other places, he said that security has always been an issue in the Ministry’s compound where people sleep.
He said too that he’s always had problems with guards at the location. He has had to summon security firm owners, he said.
He has also had on occasions to lock the gate and put the guards outside of the compound.
He also recalled being locked in the compound by the guards. He is normally at the office, in most cases until 2:00hrs. On Thursday night he left about 22:00hrs.
“I wish I was here but I don’t know what I would have done anyways,” he said.
He said that Brans Security Service replaced the guards from the United Associates Guard Service.
At the time of the fire, there were three guards in the compound, one of whom was a female.
Quizzed at the scene, Dr. Ramsammy said that he had become used to receiving threats every time there is some incident in Guyana, but nothing has ever come of those.
“We did not receive any threats this time.”
I was here until about ten o’clock last night (Thursday night). I left two security guards in the compound.
It will be a huge setback for Guyana’s health care system as most of the files, programme plans and documents are destroyed and in many cases we will have to start all over.
As he fought back tears, the embattled Minister said that the building has been home to him for more than twelve years. “This is my life’s work.”
“It’s a criminal act. Obviously arson of this kind has political implications,” he added.
Dr Ramsammy said that if arson is proved, “it’s an indication of how low people can go.
“The building does not serve a political purpose. It serves the Guyanese people, especially the poor.”
This razed building is estimated to be close to two centuries old.
It is said to have housed the Orphan’s Asylum and from 1918 – 1951, Queen’s College.
Joseph Hadfield, one of the most prolific architects of that period, designed the colonial block of the building.
Originally, this building stood on a block of land comprising lots 2-9 Brickdam, Stabroek and was owned by Edward Carberry in 1838.
In 1852, the government of British Guiana acquired the land. Property registers state that Joseph Hadfield designed the old colonial buildings along that block.
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