Never mind peace and goodwill, this is the season of noise nuisance and danger. Squibs, firecrackers and the infernal ‘bombs,’ which for all the ordinary citizen knows could be RPGs going off, nowadays make life for members of the public a misery. In a normal year Diwali heralds the advent of the noisy season, but this year it began early when two weeks ago in separate incidents fireworks destroyed four school toilets, no less, at the JC Chandisingh Secondary School. These acts of vandalism were followed by a similar incident where the Belvedere Primary School compound became a target.
Demerara residents are on notice. The two institutions mentioned above are in Corentyne, and since most of the fireworks imported illegally into this country come from Suriname, it is Berbice which will experience the consequences of new developments on the firecracker front first. And as the degree of destruction referred to above indicates, there have been some significant new developments. As we reported earlier, a police source told this newspaper that a new ‘bomb’ called the ‘Thunder King’ had made its appearance in Corentyne. It looked like a cartridge, he said, and was very dangerous.
Given what happened at the JC Chandisingh school, no one needs to be told that this latest addition to the fireworks range is indeed very dangerous. In fact, the Thunder King sounds as if it should be classified as an explosive device in the weapons category, rather than treated as a firework. And those irresponsible individuals in Corentyne who are vending it seem to be conscious of its lethal potential, since unlike other firecrackers it is not on open display and they are cautious about whom they sell it to.
That does not mean, however, that they have any qualms about selling it to schoolchildren; it was minors, for example, who lobbed Thunder Kings into the compounds of both JC Chandisingh and Belvedere schools. It just means, as we explained in our report on Thursday, that they will not sell it to anyone who looks “suspicious,” like the media or the police. Given the ‘bomb’s’ dangerous potential it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed, and so the mindset of a vendor or shopkeeper who is prepared to put what to all intents and purposes is a weapon into the hands of children (or anyone else, for that matter), is completely incomprehensible.
But it is not as if other kinds of firecracker are safe either. Their potential for damage was amply demonstrated on Thursday night, when a section of the Stabroek Bazaar burnt down. The Fire Department on a preliminary analysis thought that the fire might have been caused by illegal connections to the electricity supply. While that is still to be confirmed, what is known is that firemen were seriously hampered in extinguishing the flames because one of the stalls had a stock of fireworks which were ignited by the blaze and then fired off in all directions. A case of two illegalities, it must be said, being responsible for substantial losses.
In the past children in this country have been injured by fireworks, and in other jurisdictions people have been killed, but none of that appears to have had any impact on the mindless beings who import the devices or those who sell them.
The Guyana Revenue Authority has issued its annual warning about firecrackers, and last week announced that it had found 15 boxes of them in a car in Berbice. It is the Customs Department, of course, which is the first line of defence, since its officers man the border points. However, in the case of the Corentyne one can safely assume that fireworks enter this country via the backtrack route, and their importers never lay eyes on a Customs officer when landing on Guyanese soil.
The onus for seizing squibs, ‘bombs’ and their relatives, therefore, really falls on the police. And while the GPF always makes the right noises on this subject, its actions frequently fall far short of the ideal. The elimination of fireworks, for example, should be one of their priorities at this time of year. But on Friday morning, only hours after stalls in the Stabroek Bazaar had burnt down, and while fire investigators sifted through the debris, firecrackers were being offered openly for sale hardly any distance away. To prove the point, on page 10 of yesterday’s paper we carried a photograph of a tray with fireworks and steel wool for sale outside the KFC outlet.
While as everyone knows the capacities of the Guyana Police Force have become degraded over the years, as was demonstrated during the tenure of the last Police Commissioner it is still possible for the police to make a serious impact on the Christmas fireworks situation if they are systematic about it. And before the new Thunder Kings wend their way down the East Coast and make their explosive appearance in the built-up area of the capital, from where they will go countrywide, the police should go into high gear. If they don’t, it is possible we might even have to brace ourselves for a tragic Christmas.