While we have no wish to question the sincerity of the recent statement by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce (GCCI) on the issue of compliance, or more accurately, widespread lack of compliance with fire regulations by large sections of the urban commercial community, it has to be said that the various private sector bodies have been paying little more than lip service to an issue that has been with us at least for several decades and one which, periodically, manifests itself in disasters that leave ugly scars on the urban commercial landscape and devastate what in some cases are decidedly under-insured business houses.
The level of indifference to the risks associated with a lack of compliance with fire regulations has long reached a point of profound recklessness so that pronouncements regarding the role of the chamber on the Fire Advisory Board and occasional statements on the desirability of adherence to those regulations are really quite meaningless since, apart from being significant only in the sense that they are routine, there is no evidence that delinquent business houses pay any serious attention to them anyway. To put it bluntly such pronouncements have had roughly zero practical impact on the attitudes of the transgressors.
We know too, based on our last interview with the Fire Chief more than a year ago that the issue of compliance with fire regulations among some members of the urban business community is a matter of both frustration and concern since the effective enforcement of the regulations is sometimes hindered by considerations that lie outside the control of the Fire Department. Though the Fire Chief did not say so openly, one gets the impression that it is not as easy to enforce the law as one might think. Delinquent business houses, it seems, have their own way of getting around the regulations, evidence of this being apparent in the fact that many of them have been non-compliant with the regulations for years.
It is, of course, unnecessary to restate the various types of transgressions that occur, the ages of some of the wooden buildings that are non-compliant and the proximity of these buildings one to another, which, taken together, comprise an ever present recipe for disaster. In the circumstances it boggles the mind that the only visible manifestation of private sector concern in this matter is the occasional token media statement which invariably comes in the wake of a fire or a series of fires.
It may well be that the GCCI is working “closely” as it says in its media release with the Fire Advisory Board (FAB) and the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) in “highlighting and reinforcing the importance of compliance with fire prevention and fire safety regulations.” Quite what that means in real terms particularly when one considers the huge scale of the risk that attends continued transgression of fire regulations is unclear. Surely, if we must live with a commercial sector which, for the most part, comprises row upon row of old buildings punctuated these days by new, more modern structures, those umbrella private sector bodies, including the GCCI ought to be doing a great deal more than simply reminding us of the ever present danger of disaster. Businesses that trade in the city ought not to be allowed to continue to do so in a manner that places large sections of our capital at risk of being destroyed by fire, which is precisely the state of affairs that exists at this time and the GCCI must tell us what, in concrete terms, it is doing to get this point across.
What is required is a vigorous and sustained private sector lobby which not only points fingers at the various transgressors but also seeks to exert such influence as it can at the level of the Fire Advisory Board and in collaboration with the Fire Department to seek the effective enforcement of the regulations to compel compliance by the transgressors. If, as appears to be the case, there are some business houses that are sufficiently well-connected to enjoy unsanctioned circumvention of the fire regulations then serious questions should be raised as to whether such recklessness does not warrant stronger measures including a vigorous lobby by the private sector to make consumers aware of the dangers of doing business with those establishments.
If such measures might appear draconian one has to balance their severity against the folly of having the capital left permanently vulnerable to fires that wreak untold havoc the risk of which has, over the years, not been reduced the slightest bit by the kind of pronouncements contained in the GCCI’s most recent media release. Lip service is nowhere near enough.