May 28, 2023 Letters
Kaieteur News – The shock, trauma, devastation, and horror of the Mahdia fire has awakened in all students and citizens of Guyana a new consciousness that what Government does or fail to do can cause us to live or die.
A “root-cause” analysis clearly shows that adults have failed our children at Mahdia, that there were many sins of commission and sins of omission. Parents trusted the school and the Ministry of Education and sent their children there to get a good education in good safe, secure facilities, with good adult supervision and support, under the oversight of the Ministry of Education and regional/local authorities. Instead, 19 students end up burnt to death, including 14 so charred beyond recognition that it required DNA testing not available in our new crime lab in the richest country in Caricom and the fastest growing oil rich economy in the world, but available in teeny, tiny Barbados. Those who were in the legal position of “loco parentis” (substitute parents), where underage children must be accompanied and supervised by adults, were in dereliction of duty. As if it absolves Government of all responsibility and culpability, apologists for the Government say you can’t blame the Minister of Education, the Ministry or the Government, that it was a fellow student who became an arsonist that set the fire.
Was it the arsonist or the Government employees that were responsible for the safety and security of students? Does the buck for safety and security stop with the alleged arsonist or the governmental authorities and functionaries? Will it be the arsonist that will be subject to criminal neglect or criminal negligence charges? The Government is shell-shocked and embarrassed this tragedy happened under their watch. The Mahdia Dorm Tragedy is a no-confidence in Government moment, Guyana’s own “9/11” event that will be etched in history. But the President and Cabinet’s support to the surviving students, the parents and grieving communities is exemplary and very commendable. I believe the President is a compassionate man who leads with the heart and wants to do well. The nation rallied to the President’s call to come together in mourning. However, imagine if such caring and support for the Mahdia children came proactively before the tragedy, not after. Imagine if we had cared to follow up on complaints from concerned citizens and Fire Inspectors’ reports and put systems, equipment, and adequate personnel in place, our children would not have been trapped and their lives snuffed out in the twinkling of an eye. Nation, they never had a chance to say goodbye!
What this Mahdia fire has done is to mobilise the whole country to understand that poor governance, poor supervision, poor follow up, poor implementation can be detrimental to our current existence and our future. It highlights a country rooted in inequities and lack of equal access to education and Government services, which both the PNC and PPP have failed to solve in 60 years. This tragedy is also a wake-up call to all cabinet members to do their jobs properly. If you cannot fulfill your oath of office and run an efficient, responsive Ministry, get out and let smarter people take over. Slackers make our good President look bad. Mr. President, fire them up or fire them!
Thank you, Government! We are now united as “One Guyana” opposed to governmental mediocrity and incompetence. Enough is enough! We can now use the Mahdia Tragedy as a poster child and reference point when talking about inefficiency and systems failure. People will understand the analogy. What Mahdia brings to the forefront is that after the cumulative 60 years of the PNC and PPP, and 57 years of Independence, we still operate as a “s…hole” country. Ministers do not respond to citizens’ calls and texts, and customer service and follow-up are awful. Apparently, the Ministry and authorities were given Fire Inspection reports with recommendations for follow up action. Did anybody care to follow up? There were many other dorm fires where precious lives were lost and schools fires where several schools were burnt to the ground. Did this jolt the Ministry to implement systems and do anything new, different, and better about safety and security? Is this criminal neglect, criminal negligence?
We should have learnt our lessons from these fires – all under the PPP’s rule: Bartica Secondary Boys Dorm, 2007; Waramadong Secondary Girls Dorm, 2008;North Ruimveldt Secondary, June 2021; North West Secondary, September 2021; St George’s High School, 2022; Christ Church Secondary, 2023. Now Mahdia.
Mr. President, Guyanese are dumbfounded and angry. Everybody is talking about this unbelievable horror story. One blogger, R. Bobb, wrote: “Get off social media. Your department is responsible for these kids’ safety and you failed at your job, there was no exits, no smoke detectors, no fire extinguishers, no sprinkler that was a death trap. You’re consoling the parents? You were not coming anywhere near me or my family, those kids were burnt alive and you’re updating us on the President landing? Who cares? Will that bring these kids back?” Another article from a staunch PPP supporter said, “Government and Opposition benchwarmers have failed the nation, all should vacate parliament,” (KN, May 25, 2023). Another said, they should have put the students at Mazaruni Prison – it’s easier to escape from there, and they should have put “Smallie” at the Mahdia Dorm – he couldn’t escape from there! Heads must roll. Our Mahdia Dorm children must not die in vain! As the Paul Harris cartoon puts it, “Their sacrifice is our eternal vigil.”We must have a Commission of Enquiry sooner than later. Family compensation should be at least $100 million each because “Amerindian Lives Matter.”Wake up Guyana! To Government – remember the Ramkhellawan song, “Dem Ah Watch Meh.” An aroused nation is watching!
Dr. Jerry Jailall
The only savior of Guyana
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