Ramsammy adamant security breached in health ministry fire

– fires firm, demands answers

The ruins of the two burnt Ministry of Health buildings are still being assessed by investigators in the wake of Friday’s fire, but preliminary confirmation of security breaches have resulted in the ministry immediately switching security firms and demanding a full explanation for what occurred.

Brans Security Services lost its contract with the Health Ministry on Friday hours after police grilled two of its security personnel. It has been replaced by RK Security Services whose guards are currently on site at the ministry’s Brickdam location. The police force has also dispatched two ranks to the site to secure the location for an interim period while investigations continue.

Officials at Brans Security declined to comment when contacted yesterday confirming only that the firm’s guards were no longer on site. However, sources close to the firm told Stabroek News that the security officers who were on duty at the fire site were adamant that there were no breaches.

Speaking at press briefing yesterday at the National AIDS Pro-gramme Secretariat (NAPS) Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy said there appeared to be “confirmation that people entered his ministry’s compound and firebombed the building”, while Brans personnel were on site.

The entry would have likely been through the Hadfield Street gate at the southern end of the compound, the minister opined, adding that there was evidence of broken window panes on other buildings in that section.

Ramsammy said an initial survey of the buildings still standing have revealed that  windows were broken at strategic points which he said indicated that attempts were made to “totally destroy everything”.

He said the buildings that were attacked but not burned had grillwork that prevented easy entry. Describing the exterior of the main building as visible from the Hadfield Street entrance, he said that a fire escape was built from the ground leading up to the top floor and an open verandah was also built at the top of the stairs.

According to the minister, the windows at the top of the building were also grilled but the doors only had locks which were bolted from the inside. He added that there were no louvre windows on the main building where the fire erupted.

Ministry of Health officials recovered vaults from the rubble of the buildings destroyed by fire on Friday which contained cheques and cash totalling $2.5 million. In this photograph provided by the ministry Acting Auditor General, Deodat Sharama (far right); Permanent Secretary within the ministry Hydar Ally (second from left) and Finance Secretary Nirmal Rekha (left) join other ministry staff as one of the vaults was opened.
Ministry of Health officials recovered vaults from the rubble of the buildings destroyed by fire on Friday which contained cheques and cash totalling $2.5 million. In this photograph provided by the ministry Acting Auditor General, Deodat Sharama (far right); Permanent Secretary within the ministry Hydar Ally (second from left) and Finance Secretary Nirmal Rekha (left) join other ministry staff as one of the vaults was opened.

Police questioned two of the Brans security officers and released them after taking statements. However, Ramsammy believes that the firm owes his ministry an explanation.

“I need to know what happened. They need to come and explain to us what happened,” Ramsammy said.

He opined that the security guards might have been sleeping in the wee hours of Friday morning when the fire started.

“Did they see anything? And if they didn’t see anything, were they sleeping? Did they have a good dream? I need to know that. Were they dreaming of being in the Bahamas or something?” the minister questioned.

Ramsammy is of the firm opinion that security firms need to be penalized for things that happen “on their watch”. He said his ministry has periodically had problems with Brans, adding that vehicles had been tampered with in the night in the past while officers were on duty.

Further, he disclosed that on the night when he arrived on the scene the security guard who was stationed at the Hadfield Street hut could not tell him where the keys for the ministry were.

No breach

A source close to Brans Security firm yesterday said the guards on site at the time of the fire saw nothing unusual or strange prior to the blaze.

“They told the police that nothing was amiss and that no one entered that compound that night.

They were all stationed there and only saw smoke initially before the flames was visible,” the source related.

The source said the ministry had contracted Brans in January this year and the arrangement was that five security officers would work in the day and five would be on duty at night. The arrangement changed some three months ago when the ministry requested that the five officers at night be scaled down to four.

The source said the ministry had said something about “cutting back on spending,” with regard to why the arrangement was changed.

On Thursday night, the source said, only three security officers reported for duty, not four as usual and explained that sometimes the service is faced with such problems. Of the three on duty, one was in the guard hut at Brickdam, another in the hut at Hadfield Street and the third in an eastern hut.

Routine checks were made that night, according to the source, when an inspector from the service visited. However, the source was unable to give the time of the visit. The source said too that a security officer from the ministry also made a routine check on site that night, again the source could not say at what time.

The source said that Brans was alerted about the fire by an officer on site and telephoned the fire service.

The source suggested that the police do thorough investigations to uncover “the truth”.
Domestic terrorism

Ramsammy told reporters yesterday that the attack on the ministry was not only criminal arson, but also a clear case of domestic terrorism. He stressed that such acts are shocking and shameful while expressing disbelief that anyone would have selected the Ministry of Health for “such an expression of terrorism.

“Guyana can ill-afford such terrorist acts in our country. I deplore such acts not only as minister but as a citizen and I call on Guyanese to join me in expressing our disapproval of such tactics,” the minister said.

The Ministry of Health building which was destroyed by fire in the early hours of Friday morning, for many years provided a home for Queen’s College (above). The school occupied the premises between the years 1918-1951
The Ministry of Health building which was destroyed by fire in the early hours of Friday morning, for many years provided a home for Queen’s College (above). The school occupied the premises between the years 1918-1951

He said that while people might be angry about something it is terrible that they would seek to address such concerns through the destruction of a health facility. According to him, the fire is the action of warped minds.

Ramsammy declared that he is extremely angry over what happened saying that people who started the fire are those who need to be arrested, charged and “on conviction need to be locked away”.
‘Non-stories’

The minister was visibly upset at what he called “non-stories” implicating the ministry in the fire. He said persons are out there saying things “about us destroying records”, but added that many of the crucial records at the ministry are duplicated. He spoke specifically about procurement at the ministry saying that the Ministry of Health’s Procure-ment and Management Unit was not at the headquarters at Brickdam, but instead is located at Kingston. Ramsammy stated that all the records pertaining to procurement are at Kingston.

Additionally, he said persons who are raising such implications are being “purely mischievous”.

Ramsammy pointed out that important financial records which the ministry kept in vaults were all retrieved from the rubbles of the fire intact on Friday. He said that some $2.5 million in petty cash and cheques were recovered from the vaults in the presence of police officers and staff from the Auditor General’s Office.
Services continue

He reiterated that services at the ministry continue and updated the media on new plans that are in place as of yesterday.

Vaccinations for adults who are travelling and children who missed shots would be available on Monday from the Disability Commission at 49 Croal Street. Ramsammy said that prior to the commission occupying that building it was the old      vaccination site; the services were removed and relocated at the ministry in 2000.

The Central Board of Health services would be temporarily available at boardroom of NAPS for this week only as is the Medical Assistance Programme. However, from the following week both services would be relocated to the ministry’s compound, in the bottom flat of the building situated to the left of the compound from the Hadfield Street entrance.

The Accounts and Administration departments would be on ground floor of the Regional Health Services building also located in the ministry’s compound near the Hadfield Street entrance.

Ramsammy said his office and that of the Chief Medical Officer as well as Disease Control Unit would all be in the building to the left of the compound from Hadfield Street. He said minor construction work had begun to provide additional accommodation.

Further, he pointed out that no medical supplies including drugs were affected by the fire since the supplies are stored at an offsite location.

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