You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2016 06 18Article 448269

Opinions of Saturday, 18 June 2016

Columnist: Agbai, Stephen

June 3 disaster: Why is justice delaying?

I read with utter embarrassment and indignation recent news about government's lame efforts to right the wrongs in the June 3 Disaster and efforts to compensate families of some victims.

I cannot come to terms with the fact that the committee report presented to government has not been published for scrutiny and observation by the general public, the true owners of that report. The only relevant information, which is in dispute, is the leaked part of the report which attributed the immediate cause of the disaster to a lit cigarette dropped on the floodwater by a faceless man.

No country with a truly responsible leadership will give a haphazard response to the death of as many as 159 and 154 badly injured citizens. Every citizen's life must matter to the managers of our nation whose responsibility it is to protect all and sundry without pretentious excuses.

According to graphiconline.com, only 71 families have so far been compensated with a paltry 10,000 Ghana Cedis by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) out of the over 300 families affected by the disaster a year on. What effort is the AMA making to compensate the remaining families? Is the City Authority telling us that this is the best they can do under the circumstances? What are they doing about the remaining unidentified bodies in the mortuary?

In any case, how did they come by the 10,000 Ghana Cedis compensation package the 71 families have received so far? Who determined it, and is that all there is? Good governance demands that they withhold no information from the general public on this serious matter, unless it is their way of keeping us in the dark over what actually happened on that fateful day.

Now on the Ghana Oil Company (GOIL), whose management has been dead silent in this whole matter: How does GOIL come in? some may ask. GOIL owned the property (site) on which the disaster happened. GOIL reportedly lost eight (8) members of staff to the disaster, and I suppose they were part of the 159 death toll. I also reason that GOIL would have silently compensated the families of the eight staff by now. If so, why ignore the rest? Do their lives not matter?

It stands to reason that as standard practice demands, GOIL had insured the property as at the time the incident happened. I shudder to think otherwise.
Aspects of the leaked committee findings about the cause of the fire cited GOIL as having remotely caused the disaster through gross negligence. Their underground tank leaked with hydrocarbons and floated on the floods. As a result, the lit cigarette which was dropped on it led to the explosion and the deaths and injuries in its wake. If this is true, then it means the managers of that fuel station failed to secure their product well. The required safety standards were fouled. Therefore, whichever way we look at it, GOIL has a greater responsibility to execute in the matter.

I recall the incident of Oil Spillage in Mexican and American waters by British Petroleum (BP) some years ago. The company, having been found responsible, is still paying hundreds of millions of dollars to families of victims and the governments of America and Mexico. That is a perfect example of a responsive and responsible company. Of course I must add that class tort litigation was brought against BP by some victims in Mexico following the failure of BP to do right.

With the foregoing available to learn from, it beggars belief that both GOIL and the Government of Ghana are displaying complete irresponsibility, lackadaisical attitudes and lack of responsibility towards this matter as though the lives of those lost and disfigured survivors could be replaced or bought with the pittance being doled out by the AMA.

The perpetual damage done to the bereaved families and maimed should not be taken lying down. Human life must not be sacrificed on the altar of parochial convenience. Justice must not be left to the whims and caprices of a few irresponsible people.

Going forward, I urge government to make public the report of the committee it established so that Ghanaians, and especially the victims and their families, can access it and make informed decisions. It is only when this is done that the wheel of justice can begin to grind effectively.

In the meantime, while expressing my heartfelt commiserations with the families of the 159 who died and 154 injured, I urge them to seek legal support to sue the Government of Ghana and GOIL. It appears only class action litigation will wake those responsible up to their responsibilities.

May we all eventually learn from this painful experience and resolve to never again expose ourselves to such avoidable, man-made and dehumanising disaster.

May the souls of our dear departed ones on June 3, 2015 and the 10 others who died at Cape Coast in the second week of June, 2016 following four days of torrential rains rest in perfect peace!

By: Stephen Agbai