(GuyanaChronicle)Following swearing in of CoI members students affected by fire given option to continue secondary education on the coast
as gov’t mulls refurbishing primary tops, building new schools in affected communities
THREE months after a devastating fire claimed the lives of 20 children who were housed at the Mahdia Secondary School dormitory in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni), a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to examine the circumstances around the incident was on Thursday officially established.
The CoI will be chaired by Retired Army Chief of Staff Major-General Joe Singh. He will be supported by the Chairman of the National Toshaos Council Derrick John and head of the University of Guyana’s Law Department, attorney-at-law Kim Kyte-Thomas.
The trio took their oath of office before acting Chief Magistrate, Sherdel Isaacs-Marcus, in the presence of President, Dr. Irfaan Ali and Education Minister Priya Manickchand at the Office of the President.
Attorney Javed Shaddick has been appointed the Secretary of the Commission and took his oath of office also.
President Ali, during his remarks at the swearing-in ceremony, said that the CoI now marks a crucial step towards understanding the circumstances that led to the deadly fire and paves the way for healing.
“My intention as President is to ensure a balanced, impartial and thorough examination of the causes of the fire and related issues.
“The CoI represents a crucial step towards understanding and healing, it is also intended to derive lessons to improve safety and ensure that such a tragedy never re-occurs,” the Head of State affirmed.
According to the President, the Terms of Reference (ToRs) crafted will guide the commissioners and give them the leeway to make recommendations on existing plans and policies established by the government in relation to facilities established for children, women and vulnerable groups.
Dr. Ali said: “The Terms of Reference bestowed upon this commission have been crafted with the intent of granting the latitude for a comprehensive examination, and for us also to look at lessons and to look at strategies as we move forward as a country.”
“I’ve consistently made clear that the Government of Guyana is accountable to the people of Guyana and everything must be in keeping with this commitment,” he added.
Acknowledging that the tragedy plunged the entire nation into mourning, President Ali said that it was imperative that those directly affected were given the time and space to grieve.
He said that the government saw it fit to not rush establishment of the CoI to avoid “aggravating” the existing trauma of those grieving and recovering.
“We recognised the need to give the affected families the time and space to grieve and heal; thus it was imperative to allow for a suitable period to elapse, considering the emotional impact on the families and the broader community.|
“As such, I did not deem it necessary to rush headlong into an inquiry which can run the risk of aggravating the immediate trauma being experienced by the grieving families,” Dr. Ali said.
He related that the government has been providing constant care to the relatives of those who passed, and the survivors.
“We must understand that decision-making has a direct impact, psychological impact, emotional impact, economic impact; and you ought to make decisions that cross the multifaceted nature of the circumstance that you’re making that decision to address, and I believe today there is a point where the commission can conduct this work in a much comfortable environment,” Dr. Ali said.
Meanwhile, in a direct charge to the commissioners, Dr. Ali recognised their valor in answering the call to work with the families.
“I know that it was a heavy task asked of you because you have to navigate through this very complex emotional issue, and deal with the families of all of those who are engaged.
“With your experience, with your confidence, your professionalism, your ability to be human, you will conduct yourselves and conduct this inquiry with diligence, experience, impartiality and integrity,” he added.
The commissioners will visit Region Eight as part of their inquiry; a traditional Patamona ceremony will also be held at the site where the inferno occurred before the CoI proceeds.
The devastating incident occurred on May 22, shortly before Guyana’s Independence Day celebrations, when a fire engulfed the Mahdia Secondary School Female Dormitory.
The dorm housed children from various communities including Karisparu, El Paso, Micobie, and Chenapau.
Tragically, 18 girls from the dorm and a five-year-old boy, who was the dorm mother’s son, lost their lives in the fire. Additionally, a 20th student succumbed to injuries sustained in the fire a few days later.
In response to this heart-wrenching tragedy, President Ali committed to launching a CoI with the aim of thoroughly investigating the causes and circumstances of the deadly Mahdia fire.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Priya Manickchand, who spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the event, said that preliminary building plans and a design have already been created to build a secondary school in Micobie, and refurbish primary stop schools in the region.
The ministry is also mulling the construction of secondary schools in Chenapau and El Paso.
“The parents have been clear to us they want a dorm rebuilt at that location; notice I’m making a distinction at that location. I don’t know necessarily that we have a conclusive position on whether we would accept a dorm generally for the Mahdia Secondary School,” Manickchand said.
Meanwhile, students of the Mahdia Secondary School have been given the option to continue their secondary education at President’s College, in Region Four (Demerara- Mahaica).
“For this year all the children in grades nine, 10 and 11, all the girls will come to President’s College. It’s not mandatory, it’s an offer,” Minister Manickchand said.