Opposition, other stakeholders must be involved in establishing Commission of Inquiry into deadly Mahdia fire

Last Updated on Friday, 26 May 2023, 16:35 by Denis Chabrol

Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton visiting the remnants of the burnt dormitory of the Mahdia Secondary School where 19 children died in a fire on May 21, 2023

Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton on Friday welcomed President Irfaan Ali’s announcement that there would be a commission of inquiry into the burning to death of 19 children in the dormitory of the Mahdia Secondary School but demanded that the  opposition and other relevant stakeholders be involved in crafting the terms of reference and picking the panel.

“Such a commission must be independent and comprise persons who have the respect of all stakeholders so that the findings are credible and acceptable to all,” Mr Norton said in a statement.

The opposition welcomed President Irfaan Ali’s announcement that a Commission of Inquiry would be held to investigate the causes and circumstances of the fire which destroyed the dormitory and to enquire into related issues. The opposition had first called for an inquiry into the incident that has sent shockwaves throughout Guyana and internationally.

Police are yet to say whether they have received advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions on possible legal action against the schoolgirl who allegedly made good on her threat to burn down the building in retaliation for the house mother and teacher confiscating her cellular phone because she was allegedly communicating with a man.  The file was sent to the DPP’s office on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Norton was adamant that the the terms of reference and  “reputable national and international members” should be determined by the government, opposition, and other relevant stakeholders. “It is crucial that all stakeholders work together in constructing the terms of reference to ensure a truly impartial and comprehensive investigation by the Commission of Inquiry,” he said.

The opposition said such a collaborative  effort would ensure a “fair and comprehensive  investigation” into last Sunday night’s heartbreaking loss of 18 schoolgirls and one boy in the Mahdia Secondary School dormitory fire.

Already, Mr Norton said such a probe should not only determine the specific incident at the Mahdia dormitory but also examine all school dormitories across
Guyana. “The aim is to assess whether proper safety standards are in place to guarantee the safety and well-being of our children.”

The Opposition Leader said the Commission of  Inquiry should also evaluate the structural integrity, fire safety measures, emergency exits, and overall compliance
with relevant regulations in these facilities and to recommend changes where necessary, inter alia. “We have prepared some draft terms of reference that we are prepared to discuss with all stakeholders,” he said.

He said the aim is to foster a transparent, inclusive, and thorough inquiry that upholds the principles of transparency, accountability, justice, prevention, and adequate compensation.

President Ali on Thursday said talks on compensation would be held with individual families.