Why rush to blame the PPP/C administration for the Mahdia tragedy?

Dear Editor,
The news of the fire at the Mahdia Secondary School Dormitory, a fire that claimed the lives of 19 students, was flashed on the TV screens of international media giants such as CNN and CBS. The inferno, together with the resulting deaths and injuries, struck the nation and the Guyanese psyche more than a ton of bricks.
Shocked and numbed by this heart-wrenching tragedy, the diaspora in New York quickly joined the national show of solidarity for the victims and their families by holding more than 4 vigils in honour of the victims. What has also been significant about these vigils is that religious and community leaders categorically denounced any attempt at this point to politicise this tragedy. Instead, their impassioned calls have been for prayers and the expression of solidarity with the victims’ families.
Some victims’ families have aptly called for justice. It has been reported that the student who allegedly set the inferno would be charged with 19 counts of murder.
While this course of justice is moving in one direction, other paths of justice are being pursued. President Dr Irfaan Ali has, for example, announced the grant of compensation to victims and the providing of counselling to students and parents. More importantly, though, is the swift, effective, and compassionate response of the President and his team of ministers and support personnel. Their exceptional caring, empathy, and humane action for the injured, the deceased, and those who have lost loved ones are evident, and are second to none.
The President’s message is lucid: “Whatever it takes to bring comfort and justice to these victims and their respective communities will be done.”
Sadly, despite the call from the President, as well as community and religious leaders, not to politicise the tragedy, the PNCR party and other operatives have begun to unleash their uncontrollable salvo of criticisms, without having a proper understanding of the situation. This is not to suggest that politicians and other operatives should not render criticisms, but they should wait until the murky water is clear.
As usual, I have conducted some research, and can now report on the following: (1) The windows at the Mahdia Secondary School Dormitory were indeed grilled. (2) The doors were not grilled. (3) The Ministry of Education does not administrate any school dormitory in the country, except in Georgetown. (4) The Ministry of Education is responsible for education policy and schools’ curriculum. (5) The Mahdia dormitory falls under the authority of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development. (6) Students never drank water from a pond, as alleged by the Opposition.
The grills on the windows were installed by the PNCR-led administration (at a time when both the REO and Regional Chair were PNCR members), and not by the PPPC Government. There must be compelling reason(s) that caused the PNCR-led Government to grill the windows; they should provide an explanation to the Guyanese people.
I do not mean to be cynical, but while we rightfully focus on building design/code and fire safety measures, we must not forget that, even with these in place, if an arsonist decides to strike, these measures will not stop him/her. It is conceivable, however, that under such a situation, a proper building code and safety measures could make evacuation/rescue operations easier. The point is that a proper building code and safety measures must be accompanied by the development among people/students of greater awareness of safety measures and the readiness to observe relevant rules.
Finally, while other facts would emerge out of the proposed Mahdia Commission of Inquiry, it is noted that Guyanese community and religious leaders in New York have expressed their deep appreciation for the leadership of President Dr Irfaan Ali in this extremely difficult situation. Major credit goes out to Prime Minister Brigadier (ret’d) Mark Phillips, Education Minister Priya Manickchand, Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn, Minister of Human Services Dr Vindhya Persaud, the Joint Services, the medical team, counsellors, the pilots, and NGOs. The leaders also applauded the assistance rendered by Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Mt Sinai Hospital in New York and Northwell Health Systems in New York, among others.
Our expression of condolence to the victims and their families is unconditional. While we would never know the magnitude of their pain, we do know that “every cloud has a silver lining.”

Dr Tara Singh