Meaningful analysis not rash assessments is needed in the area of fire safety in business houses

Dear Editor,

Your business editorial of April 1 chastised the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) for not doing enough to ensure compliance by the business community with the fire regulations of Guyana. The editor described the verbal advocacy and participation of the Chamber on the Guyana Fire Advisory Board (FAB) as “meaningless” and constituting mere lip service.

I would hope that the editorial writer made a genuinely inadvertent mistake in inserting GCCI when it instead should have been Guyana Fire Service (GFS), because the editorial appears to imply that the private sector group must become a fire regulations enforcement organisation.

There is no obligation, legal or otherwise, for businesses to comply with any demand made by any private sector organisation on this particular point. These issues are left appropriately to the legislatively mandated authority. The fact that the Chamber advocates and make representations on the FAB should be viewed positively rather than have its usefulness excoriated by an editorial position that employed flimsy, sweeping generalisations concerning actions the Chamber should take to become more effective in this area. In fact, the editor’s only suggestion was that the GCCI point fingers at the transgressors and run an aggressive PR campaign to make consumers aware.

If, as the editorial argues, that business houses are not paying attention to the fire regulations and that “some businesses are “well-connected to enjoy unsanctioned circumvention of the fire regulations,” then how would the two recommended actions of your editorial change this current set of circumstances?  Isn’t there some broader issue of governance at play here?

Furthermore, not all businesses in Georgetown, and definitely not in other urban centres across the country, are members of the GCCI, so who should ‘compel compliance’ and ‘point fingers’ at these non-members comprising the majority of the business community?

There is a larger overriding philosophical question to be explored in this issue: Whose responsibility is it to provide a safe work environment? No doubt, history suggests that some reasonable and responsible form of government oversight is good. On the other hand, one needs to acknowledge that substantial bodies of fire regulatory codes and standards are quite complicated and frustrating to comply with from a business owner’s perspective. Therefore, a tension point arises that potentially creates major enforcement headaches.

Some more worthwhile questions also need to be discussed, such as the manner in which the fire service prioritises prevention and risk reduction relative to its other obligations of duty, as well as whether or not there are sufficient staff and resources to carry out this effort. Furthermore, it might be more useful for all stakeholders in the issue of fire safety to have a productive, informed, and conscientious public dialogue that deals with the dimensions of fire safety education, construction engineering, and code enforcement. Meaningful analysis, not rash assessments are needed here, particularly in examining the problem before allocating time and money in a solution that may not be practical or even warranted.

Lately, I also have seen an unmistakable slant towards some sensational headlines and editorial positions within your business supplement. Moreover, there seems to be very little fact-checking or evidence presented regarding some of the assertions made in the business section.  My sincere plea is that the Stabroek News maintains the high level of journalistic standards for which it has been long known.

Yours faithfully,
Clinton Urling

Editor’s note
While it may be true that businesses have no legal obligation to comply with any demand made by any private sector organization, the point which we sought to make in our editorial is that neither the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) nor any other mainstream private sector organization has been even remotely persistent in seeking to persuade the business community of the importance of adherence to fire safety regulations. Our argument is not about the legal obligation of the business community but about the social responsibility of the GCCI.

Secondly, however well-connected some business houses might be, that, surely, does not excuse the private sector bodies from their obligation to undertake the kind of lobbying for best practices that goes beyond the occasional statement. Indeed, if as Mr Urling argues, businesses are under no obligation “to comply with any demand made by any private sector organization” then one might well ask whether the GCCI needed to trouble itself to issue the statement that it did.

Finally, if, as Mr Urling states, the extant “fire regulatory codes and standards are quite complicated and frustrating to comply with,” then, presumably, he is making an argument for revisiting those codes and practices themselves rather than simply remaining indifferent to the dangers of them not being observed by sections of the business community.

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