Leader of the Opposition, Aubrey Norton has called for the Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand; the Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony; and the Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill to resign over circumstances surrounding the death of the 19 children in the Mahdia dorm in Region 8.
The children found themselves trapped in the heavily grilled building as fire ripped through it on Sunday night. All of the doors to the building were also locked and could not have been opened from the inside.
During an early morning interview with Trinidad and Tobago’s CCN TV6, Mr Norton said the three Ministers are equally responsible for the deaths of the young children, many of whom were indigenous.
“In my opinion, there should be at least three resignations, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Public Works. The responsibility to protect our children, was placed squarely at the feet of the government. This is a government governed institution, and if there are no proper protocols etc, then the tragedy that occurred was just waiting to happen,” the Opposition Leader said.
While it is alleged that the fire was maliciously set by one of the students, Mr Norton said there was a clear absence of fire prevention and other safety measures in place at the grilled building.
“First of all, I think one has to look at the building code, and to what extent the Ministry of Public Works is ensuring that in construction, that you adhere to the building code. Now, you have a dormitory where children will live in, and the information is, is that it was ill-equipped to be able to deal with a fire. The absence of fire extinguishers, no alarm systems, and then it is compounded by the fact that you grill this entire building up and there was no mechanism, in the case of any form of disaster for the children to get out. And so, for me, that constitutes gross negligence on the part of the authorities,” Mr Norton explained.
He said the Ministry of Public Works failed to ensure that basic building codes were adhere to, and fire prevention systems were in place.
Mr Norton said to compound the situation, after the survivors were evacuated out of the burning building, there were insufficient medical supplies to treat the burn victims.
“That again is a manifestation of not only negligence but incompetence on the part of the Ministry of Health,” Mr Norton said.
He, however, said that the Government’s response to the national tragedy was “reasonable” but emphasized that such an incident should never happen again.
“The Governments response has been one to mobilize the Joint Services and the aircraft, etc, to get persons out, and to deal with the disaster itself. I would say that the Government did respond in a reasonable way but there should have been no need for such a response, if we had put in place the necessary mechanisms and safeguards to ensure that something like that doesn’t happen,” the Opposition Leader said.
In an earlier interview with News Source on Monday, Mr Norton called for a comprehensive probe to be conducted into the fire and the circumstances that may have led to it.
Mr Norton is expected to lead a team of Opposition Members of Parliament into Mahdia tomorrow to speak with the relatives and friends of the victim, and provide necessary support.
Already, a number of Opposition MPs, including Amanza Walton-Desir, and Dr Karen Cummings have visited some of the survivors, who are currently hospitalized at the Georgetown Public Hospital.
Both Government and Opposition have expressed deep condolences to the family and friends of the victims. (Svetlana Marshall)