Mahdia Fire Commission of Inquiry to visit Mahdia and surrounding communities on Wednesday

Mahdia Fire Commission of Inquiry to visit Mahdia and surrounding communities on Wednesday

The Mahdia School Dorm Fire Commission of Inquiry will travel to Mahdia, and other neighbouring villages on Wednesday to conduct a familiarization visit.

In a press briefing today at the COI Secretariat, Secretary to the Commission Javed Shaddick, explained that the visit is not intended to facilitate public hearings, but to have an assessment of the scene of the fire, and the affected communities.

The team heading into the area will comprise the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry, Major General (Ret’d) Joe Singh along with Commissioners Kim Kyte-Thomas and Derrick John, along with the Secretary to the Commission.

“Tomorrow’s visit is mostly for the commissioners to have an understanding of the area. There will be a site visit to Mahdia, where the tragedy would have taken place, and there will be a visit to some of the connecting communities Campbelltown, Micobie. But the visit is just to allow the commissioners to have an understanding of how, traveling is done in those areas,” he explained.

The visit will also take into consideration the social, cultural and economic aspects of the town of Mahdia and nearby villages.

A date for public hearings has not been set, however, Mr Shaddick said he anticipates that the hearings will commence in September.

Due to the sensitive nature of the COI, Mr Shaddick explained that while some testimonies will be streamed live, those involving children and victims of the fire will be held in-camera, and therefore would not be streamed. 

“This inquiry will be a little different from the last one that we had, particularly, because some of the persons that we will be speaking to are children, and in circumstances such as those, we will have to be protective of the rights of children, and as we move forward, we will try our best to ensure those rights are protected at all times,” Mr Shaddick said.

The Commission has written to a number of persons including officials inviting them to testify.

With a 15-year-old girl facing 20 murder charges over the dorm fire deaths, the Secretary to the Commission said he could not say whether she will be asked to appear before the Commission.

“I can’t answer that question. That would have to be a decision by the Chairman and the Commissioners,” Mr Shaddick said, when asked whether the accused would be asked to take the stand. He would only say, as seen in the Elections COI, persons have the right to invoke their constitutional right to remain silent.

Javed Shaddick

“The Constitution of Guyana protects self-incrimination. So, dealing with that specific aspect of the inquiry, would have to be dealt with differently,” he said.  

It was also disclosed that Attorney-at-Law, Keoma Griffith has been appointed Counsel to the Commission.

Griffith was the Attorney called in by the Government to look out for the interest of the family of the victims when the Government got them to sign on to a secretive financial settlement.

As part of that agreement, the Government provided financial assistance to the families on the condition that the Government cannot be held liable for the tragedy or the deaths in any future litigation.

The Secretary to the Commission appeared unaware that Attorney Griffith was the Attorney for the victims in the settlement.

“I know that there was compensation given out, and I would like to say that was a decision made by the Government, and this inquiry as I mentioned before is impartial. It has to be fair. Whether it will affect the persons, who we speak to, I can’t say at this point in time,” he said.   

According to its Terms of Reference (ToR) of the COI, the commission is mandated to inquiry into two main areas, among them, the events and circumstances leading up to the night of the fire on May 21.

The cause of the fire as well as the response by the authorities will also come under the microscope.  

The commission is expected to complete its work within two months.

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