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Opinions of Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Fire on the mountain, fire down below…

Fire everywhere!!

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, June 17, 2013

Yesterday (Sunday, June 16, 2013) recorded the worst and most sporadic instance of fire outbreaks in the country. In all, five different fire outbreaks occurred in many parts of the country, causing death and loss of property as usual, which confirms the speculation that the spate of fire outbreaks won’t abate soon.
I consider the fire outbreaks as serious national security issue that must be approached as such.

I suspect strongly that these fire outbreaks are not accidental, considering the manner in which they occur and their persistence and geographic spread. Thus, I am of the strong opinion that it is arson. Indeed, then, arson has now become the favourite weapon of choice for some people bent on causing mayhem.
Their objective goes beyond merely hurting the political and socio-economic interests of owners of property destroyed by fire. It is motivated by many factors, the most important of which is politically oriented. These people setting the fires want to use arson as a political tool to undermine the government by creating panic, fear, and discontent among the populace to suggest that the government is incapable of securing their limbs and property.
In fact, although one may quickly accuse the government itself of being too slow to tackle the problem, one cannot leave out all those who have the primary responsibility for securing the installations being wantonly burnt down but have failed so far.
It is good that the government has engaged the services of fire experts from the United States; but that measure is reactive. It won’t help us tackle the problem head-on.
We need to be proactive instead. How can we not be so, being already harmed by the fire hazards? The norm has been bush fires, which Ghanaians know full well and account for the danger even as they seem to be used to them. The shift toward industrial or domestic fires now seems to have caught us unawares.
The inability to arrest the perpetrators of the fire outbreaks so far reflects negatively on all the institutions of state, stakeholders in the institutions being burnt, and the general populace. Is it because of apathy, indiscipline, or a tacit approval for the spate of fire outbreaks? Or plain laziness and lack of patriotism?
Definitely, something is not working well, and we must say it as it is. We begin first with those who should have been up-and-doing but are not.
It is worrisome that Parliament hasn’t reacted to the fire occurrences to determine how to help us tackle the hazard. I am not surprised at this lackadaisical attitude because it has long dawned on me that our Parliamentarians are not problem-solvers or conscientious enough to know that problems of this sort cannot be tackled by the Executive only.
Indeed, our MPs are on record for fighting aggressively only when their own pecuniary or material interests are at stake. Self-seeking is their lot, as we’ve already alleged.
Their performance as lawmakers leaves a sour taste in the mouth because they aren’t doing as much as is required to improve legislation. Many areas of national life need attention by way of legislation but our MPs act as if unaware of or uncaring about the exigencies. Even in performing their routine assignments, they leave room for much to be desired.
Here is how the Scandal newspaper portrays them: “Some MPs who were getting ready to leave the precincts told this reporter that they would stay away from Parliament for at least a week since ‘there was no serious business’ going on in the House.

‘We have been attending Parliamentary sessions over the last couple of weeks, but all we do here is to correct votes and proceedings and then rise. In fact, nothing is going on here (Parliament),’ stated some of the aggrieved MPs.” (Ghanaweb:
Can our MPs help us deal with this fire hazard by revisiting the law on arson and teasing out specific elements to serve the needs of the times in which we have now found ourselves when fire-outbreaks have become a national headache?
Ghana National Fire Service
We know that the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) is hampered in many ways and has become more reactive than proactive, which is why it hasn’t been able to tackle the fire disasters occurring here and there daily.
The two main identifiable factors militating against the Service’s work are logistics and caliber of personnel employed. Logistically, the GNFS has been under-privileged over the years to such an extent that it can’t do anything when challenged.
How many fire tenders does the GNFS have at all? How many other fire-fighting tools are available for it to use? The problem is that either the government has failed to equip the service for it to perform effectively or the GNFS management itself is inefficient.
Several other constraints exist. We know that in a country where every sector of public life is politicized, even the recruitment of personnel into public institutions such as the GNFS is based on political considerations, not abilities.
Take a cursory look at the calibre of personnel parading as fire servicemen and you can draw your own conclusion. Additionally, one wonders whether these personnel are effectively trained to be able to see their job as sacrificial and demanding commitment beyond being seen in the uniform and fire-fighting gear or simply seeing their presence in the GNFS as an income-generating opportunity.
Add to these problems the poor conditions of service and you will know why there is a lot wrong with the institution established to fight fires. There is talk of salaries being improved under the single-spine salary structure; but a lot more is missing from the equation. How do we expect these unmotivated people to sacrifice their lot to solve fire problems?
Local Government Institutions (Metropolitan/Municipal/District Assemblies)
Indiscipline in the use of space is a major factor that has encouraged users of the markets to put up any structure at all anywhere to be able to ply their trade. Unfortunately, it is obvious that the building codes are not implemented by the local government authorities. That is why kiosks, tables, stalls, and other highly combustible materials are dumped in any available space for use as selling points.
What prevents the authorities from enforcing building regulations to restrict the use of combustible materials?
We can’t say that all these fires have been caused by faulty electrical cables, transformers, or any other electrical gadget. There is more to their cause than we are being told.
The Security Services
Undoubtedly, the security agencies come up for blame. All those agencies (the BNI, Ghana Police Service, Ghana Immigration Service, Customs, Excise and Preventive Service, Prisons Service, the Ghana Armed Forces, etc.) should be ashamed that they haven’t been able to help us do anything to arrest anybody behind these heartless acts.
Let no one attempt defending these institutions on the basis of their traditional functions that may constrain them from going out of the box to do what I have blamed them for not doing. Why are they in “security service” (which is limitless)?
One doesn’t necessarily have to stick to one’s traditional purview, e.g., the police personnel restricting themselves to “policing” (whatever it means) and the military personnel to0 “soldiering” (whatever it also means). I consider all of them as capable of shifting grounds and helping the country solve any problem that qualifies as a disaster, be it sabotage or not.
They can do so not necessarily by physically going round to detect instances, but by professionally collaborating with informants and others who can help them spread their tentacles far and near.
Within this context, the BNI comes up for particular mention. One is highly surprised (and dismayed too) that it hasn’t so far helped us arrest anybody perpetrating these fire disasters. What has happened to its agent network building capabilities? One doesn’t need any powers of divination to tell how the BNI can help us penetrate the ranks of saboteurs.
I challenge the Director of the BNI and his team to do their work well. They have to know that the fire outbreaks are now a major national problem that has some heavy political currency to disorient the government as they create disaffection for it and to destabilize the country. Victims of the fire disasters will definitely look beyond the occurrence to vent their spleen on the government. That in itself can engender other acts of sabotage.
There are many important economic installations all over the place that can become easy targets. What has to be done is to secure these installations and use modern surveillance equipment to capture happenings in and around them 24 hours all year round. That is why the government must allocate funds for procuring such equipment.
Then, efforts must be intensified to arrest those behind these dastardly acts and punish them stiffly to serve as a deterrent to others thinking of using arson to pursue their evil political agenda. Will it be too much to ask that any perpetrator of such an act be executed? I don’t think so. The time to act is now.
Citizen Vigilance
One expects vigilance on the part of everybody who values life and property. The need for every citizen to be part of the solution is paramount at this stage. One expects that everybody will be concerned enough to keep an eagle’s eye watch on all installations so as to detect anything suspicious, even at its formative stage before it develops into a fire disaster.
Now, there is suspicion that the fire outbreaks can’t all be accidental and that some unscrupulous elements have chosen arson as their weapon of choice to cause panic and fear as they intensify their anti-NDC/Mahama campaigns.
Indeed, given the current political atmosphere in the country, I will not rule out anything of the sort. For those not convinced that they lost Election 2012, anything that will discredit the Mahama-led government and destabilize the system will be enticing to do. They will choose arson just to inflict pain on the people who lose property in the fire disasters.
They won’t bat an eyelid when people wail and gnash their teeth in consequence. They will be happy and thump their chests for succeeding in causing harm to the people and turning their grief into political capital to exploit. Shame unto such characters.
Ultimately, solving the problem doesn’t lie in the rash decision by the various political authorities in areas experiencing the fire disasters to reconstruct those places only to go on a collision course with the market men and women. It doesn’t lie in street demonstrations by naked women who lost property in fire outbreaks. It lies in concerted efforts to secure those places. New regulations have to be enunciated and implemented. In the end, vigilance should be the hallmark of all such efforts.
I shall return…
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