Kaieteur News – Following one week of expressing horror and offering condolences and solace to the parents of those killed in the fire at the Mahdia Secondary School’s female dormitory, Guyana has returned to its favourite past time: headhunting.
The usual suspects are up to their usual games. They are seeking a scapegoat for the recent fire that so tragically took the lives of 19 children. All manner of arguments are being proffered. These include the need for accountability in government. Since when this has become important to those who are now invoking it?
All of us would like to know what caused the fire, what could have been done to prevent its spread, and to save lives. But unless we await the outcome of the investigations and the Commission of Inquiry most of us would be speculating. The media has provided a disservice on this issue. I am yet to read or learn of any media house which has dispatched a team of reporters to Mahdia to undertake investigative reporting. Instead the media, and the public, are relying on official releases and the bits and pieces of information that are filtering in from private sources.
But this incomplete information has not prevented allegations and the accusations. The headhunting from the Opposition has started. We have heard, for example, about how is not the Minister of Education who is responsible for the school but rather the Minister of Local Government and the Regional Executive Officer (REO).
But if the school is not controlled by the Ministry of Education but by the Region then why not hold the Region accountable?. The Regional administration is controlled by the PPP/C, with support from Lennox Shuman’s party and also holds the chairman and vice chairmanship. The council of the Mahdia municipality is controlled by the APNU who holds the mayor and deputy mayor. But instead of holding the Regional Democratic Council accountable, a scapegoat in the system has to be found. So we hear about the Minister and the REO. It is this sort of political gamesmanship which has this country in the mess it is in today.
Let me enlighten those who are out headhunting. Fifty persons are in a dormitory, after lights-out. The majority of them are asleep in the dark. A fire suddenly breaks out. To compound things, we are dealing with children who would be awoken have dazed and screaming, shouting and scrambling around, some going dizzy by smoke inhalation. This is a recipe for mass panic and a disaster.
Whether or not the windows were grilled; whether or not the doors were locked, there was bound in such a situation to be casualties. No amount of fire extinguishers or fire drills could have done anything to prevent deaths in such a situation. That is the reality which we all have to accept in as much as we are desperate to believe that deaths could have been prevented. As for those who seeking to hold persons accountable for the fire, they have to look to another country. When it comes to the practice of accepting moral responsibility, that sort of politics does not exist in Guyana.
Moral responsibility for an incident is when someone accepts responsibility even though that person was not directly (or even indirectly or indirectly) responsible for it. As someone once said, you do not have to be responsible for something to feel responsible.
If moral responsibility was part of our political culture, persons would have already tendered their resignations. Those persons know who they are and have been conveniently not saying much. Moral responsibility is now a political convention and there are a number of precedents. In 2009, the Transport Minister of Japan resigned after two trains collided resulting in multiple deaths. The Minister was not responsible for the accident but he accepted moral responsibility and resigned.
Forty-seven persons died in an explosion following a train derailment in Quebec in 2013. The CEO of the train company took moral responsibility and resigned. The best known case of accepting moral responsibility following a tragedy occurred in 1956 in India. The Indian Railway Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, resigned following a train accident in which 140 persons died. He resigned even though he was not culpable or responsible for what happened. He assumed moral responsibility for the incident. And that resignation is still regarded today as one of the finest examples of both moral responsibility and moral integrity in public office. But don’t look for something similar to that happening in Guyana. It is not going to happen. Seventeen prisoners were barbecued in the Georgetown Prisons in 2016 in the worst prison tragedy in the Caribbean. The prison was burnt down and at one time held under the control of prisoners. Not one person resigned or was asked to resign following those incidents. Don’t expect anyone to resign for the fire at the dormitory in Mahdia. Instead of resignations, there may well be demands for promotions for helping to hug and hold the hands of the grieving.
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