Better designed buildings mean nothing until we address the root causes for their grilled fortification

Dear Editor,

Your 24 May 2023, editorial fails on a number of fronts: First, hindsight is 20/20. Stabroek News editorial staff condescendingly refers to “geniuses” housing 60 girls in a fire-trap. Guyana is a poor country; education is a premium and everyone by consensus agreed that the housing situation, while not ideal, was an acceptable risk to sustain for an education. While the editorial staff smugly write of “geniuses”; where were your investigative journalists before this catastrophe? Talk is cheap.

Second, Stabroek News rushes to judgement, “Those in authority at various levels should have had a system in place to pre-empt the loss of life. They have failed. Abysmally.” Risk mitigation requires putting in places practices to deal with foreseeable risks. Who would have foreseen that a disgruntled student would set a fire to the dorm because her cell-phone was taken away from her? Stabroek New engages in Monday morning quarterbacking. Talk is cheap.

Third, the editorial board at Stabroek New do not live in Guyana. They live in an alternate reality. Do a survey around Georgetown: criminality is rife. The risk of dying in a home invasion or robbery is greater than the risk of fire. Guyanese at all levels of society have made a rational decision that living in a well-fortified home, be it a fire-trap, is an act of self-preservation. I am willing to bet that the Stabroek News editorial staff live in grilled residences. Talk is cheap. I do not call for heads to roll nor do I politicize the issue. The death of these children is a Guyanese tragedy. We need to engage in some introspection:

Guyanese live in a society where crime is rife and gives rise to the need for fortification. Now, we all live in veritable prisons/fire traps; disasters just waiting to happen. We need to recreate the Guyana of yore: crime fighting in the extreme. Home invasion, robbery with a deadly weapon, etc. all should be punishable by death. And like Singapore, the same should go for drug offenses. Only when we change the nature of Guyanese society that we can advocate removing the grill-works. Until such time, we will hear/read about people trapped in a burning building.

Technology has ushered in changes. We live in a world of the ubiquitous cell-phone. A child “allegedly” set fire to a building because her cell-phone was taken away from her. And in the process killed 19 of her schoolmates. In boarding schools there is the practice of “lights out.” Guyana needs to come up with a policy for school children and cell-phones. Maybe a locker system: cell-phones need to put away in a locker before classes starts and can only be retrieved at lunch or at the end of the school day. And for children who reside in dorms, cell-phones have to be put away at a reasonable time to permit the student to do homework and study without interruption.

And yes-let us continue to investigate ways to do better for our society and children. Definitely. But better designed buildings means nothing until we address the root causes for grill-fortified homes, schools, dorms, etc.


Roger Ally

Fort Lauderdale