President orders inquiry into Drop-in Centre fire

President David Granger has ordered that a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) be held into the recent fire at the Drop-in Centre which claimed the lives of two young children and former Guyana Defence Force spokesperson Colonel Windee Algernon has accepted the offer to conduct it.

This is according to Minister of State Joseph Harmon who was responding to questions on the issue during a post-cabinet press briefing today.

Reporters were told that the Terms of Reference (ToR) will be given out later in the day and that the deadline for a preliminary report is July 22.

Joshua George, 3, and his brother Anthony George, 6, perished during the early morning fire at the Hadfield Street-based facility last Friday. The two were among five siblings who were removed from their parents’ Chapel Street, Lodge home by Child Care and Protection Agency (CCPA) officers two days before the fire. Twenty-nine other children who were in the building managed to escape.

Harmon was asked if Cabinet has been briefed by the Minister of Social Protection on the fire as well as the way forward in ensuring that all children in state homes are kept safe.

“Yes, we are looking at it very seriously because anytime a Guyanese life is lost, some inquiry had to take place…because we place a very high premium on the life of Guyana and so the life of those two children who perished in that fire is something which we deeply regret as a government, as a state”, he said.

He then announced that an inquiry will be held.

“The president… has ordered an inquiry into this matter and he has given the commissioner who will be appointed later on today some very clear direction as to what he expects coming out from such a report, what had happened, where it happened, when it happened, what was involved, what are the next steps, what are the obligations of the state under these arrangements where children are kept in homes”, he said.

According to Harmon, it is expected that there will be a full inquiry into the matter.

“This is no longer just from the Ministry of Social Protection but at the level of His Excellency because there is a conference that is going on right now…focusing on children and therefore we can’t have children dying under any circumstance and not have an inquiry”, he said.

Since entering government last May, a number of inquiries have been conducted and observers in some instances have questioned the need for such. In addition to the time involved, the inquiries have been costly.

Harmon yesterday defended government said that the law provides for inquiries to be conducted of all unnatural deaths.

“We always are told by the opposition that we always have these inquiries, inquiries, inquiries (but) that is how you know how things are done. We have an Act called a Commission of Inquiries Act which requires any person who dies by unnatural circumstances that there be an investigation or inquiry into that”, he said.

Harmon told reporters that Algernon now retired was spoken to about the inquiry and has agreed to do it.

Fire Chief Marlon Gentle had told Stabroek News that the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) got a call about the fire two minutes after midnight. When fire tenders arrived on the scene, the upper part of the building had already been engulfed. Firemen immediately sprang into action and began rescuing those who were inside, he said.

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