Following the tragic death of two young brothers in a recent fire at the State-run Children’s Drop-In Centre, President David Granger has ordered an inquiry into the incident.
This was revealed by Minister of State Joseph Harmon at the post-Cabinet briefing on Thursday. He told reporters that Government is disturbed whenever a Guyanese dies from unnatural causes, and even more so, when they are children.
In this regard, he disclosed that a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) will be launched to probe the circumstances surrounding the death of Antonio George, 6, and his two-year-old brother Joshua George.
“The president has ordered an inquiry into this matter and he has given the Commissioner, who was appointed (Thursday), some very clear directions as to what he expects coming out from such a report – what has happened, where it happened, when it involved, what are the next steps, what are the obligations of the State under these arrangements where children are kept in homes. So we expect that within a short space of time, there will be a full enquiry into it,” Harmon stated.
Moreover, the Minister of State outlined that the probe will be headed by Guyana Defence Force (GDF) officer, Colonel Windee Algernon.
He added too that the final Terms of Reference (ToRs) were to be finalised by the end of Thursday so that work can commence immediately.
“I think the President has given directions that he would like to have a preliminary report no later than 22nd of July, so that they have to start working right away,” Harmon posited.
According to reports, just after midnight on Friday last, the two young brothers perished in a fire which occurred at the Drop-in Centre on Hadfield Street, Georgetown.
It was reported that the elder brother Antonio was asleep in the dormitory when the fire started and as the younger brother Joshua was being taken out of the building by caregivers, he realised his brother was not with him.
The two-year-old managed to relieve himself from the grip of the caregiver and ran back into the burning building. The two brothers were trapped in the building and their charred remains subsequently recovered.
At a press briefing Friday last, Social Service assistants Sandra Jones and Rupert Hinds, who were in charge of the 31 children at the Drop-in Centre, described the events leading up to the tragic incident.
According to Jones, who was in charge of the girls’ department in the upper flat of the centre, she noticed sparks emanating from a nearby electrical wire which quickly erupted into a flame and began spreading into an uncontrollable blaze.
She said she began awakening the girls, who then rushed out of the burning building to safety, while she tried to battle the flames with fire extinguishers.
“I was in the dorm upstairs and the girls already drop to sleep and whilst sitting down, I noticed the electrical wire on the wall, start giving this whizzing sound, and next thing I know, there’s a big bunch of fire all over the place. I wake the girls up and try to save as much of them I can. I saved all my girls. I got out all of the girls,” she said with relief.
However, Hinds, who was in charge of the boys’, explained that when Jones alerted him of the fire, he tried to get the boys to safety, and then moved to assist Jones in taming the fire.
Meanwhile, Director of the Child Care & Protection Agency (CCPA) Ann Greene, had disclosed that the two brothers along with three other siblings were taken into care two days before following an investigation into allegations that they were neglected and abused.
She relayed that as per routine, the CPA took the children for medical attention the following day and it was confirmed that the children were victims of neglect and maltreatment.
Greene further stated that Ministry of Social Protection would take full responsibility for the tragic incident and bear the full cost of the funeral for the young children.
Nevertheless, civil society activists joined with the dead children’s parents on Thursday as they picketed the CCPA office, calling for answers over the deaths and the state of the building.
Among the dozen or so activists were Head of Red Thread Karen De Souza who criticised the Social Protection Ministry and the CCPA, noting that instead of outlining steps to prevent a recurrence they are pointing fingers at the grieving family.