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Opinions of Saturday, 8 June 2013

Columnist: Ackon, Paa Kow

With all due respect, arrest the fire outbreaks

With all due respect, arrest the fire outbreaks – your excellency

Many Ghanaians are troubled at the rate at which public facilities especially markets are burning down in recent times. These fire outbreaks have caused severe damages to life and property, but the Ghana National Fire Service is set to review and correct all safety regulations and with the needed legal backing enforce the law on fire safety. Safety is everybody's right and responsibility but somehow, a good number of people have become happy-go-lucky and lawless in this country thereby resulting in some of these fire outbreaks.

It has been recommended by many people that updated fire safety standards and emergency preparedness is the only defense against fire outbreaks. Sadly enough, according to a report by the Center for Disaster Resilience and Leadership Studies of the University of Health and Allied Sciences, the country spends Ghc8million on fire disasters every month and a catastrophic fire occurs somewhere in Ghana every 2 hours and 15 seconds.

We all understand the difficult situations under which Fire Fighters work in Ghana, but sorry to say that, while a lot of countries all over the world are now reworking on their safety protocols and technologies in order to keep up with the latest fire protection standards, we are in high spirits that the fire service has new fire tenders. If our fire fighters have adequate basic safety technologies, it would enable them to fight fire in record time. More importantly, it is high time our markets are standardized with modern toilet facilities, playgrounds, crèche, kitchen etc as promised by the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) in their 2012 political platform. Our ability to build standard markets would give way to fire engines and also make it easy to trace the root causes of these fire outbreaks. It will also motivate insurers to design insurance policy packages for our market women and traders.

It is common knowledge that fire outbreaks are for the most part a function of pitiable maintenance. There is no visible preventive maintenance regime in our Ghanaian culture. For instance, instead of establishing a National Disaster Prevention Organization (NADPO) we chose to establish a National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO). Per our nature, we leave so much to reactive maintenance and repair and think that God will resolve the rest esoterically. As religious as we are, some have even questioned why we have several cinch prophets and yet, none of them could tell us whether these fire outbreaks are as a result of a natural disaster or that they are caused by some charmed circle or arsonists. As a Christian, I believe that fires burn for a purpose.

From a spiritual perspective, maybe this could be a challenge for Prophets T.B. Joshua, Owusu Bempah, Opambour, Jesus Onetouch, Kum chacha, Apae life, First and Last stop, Alhaji nti wiase paa nie, Alhaji Baba Fear God, Nana Oboanipa, Bishop Obinim, Brother Anamoh, Kunfayakun, Mallam Musah, Bobivi Kwame, Awoyo Asofo, Kweku Bonsam etc etc to give us the spiritual interpretation of what is happening. Perhaps, we have done something wrong for which we are incurring the wrath of God. It would be recalled that the late Prof Mills experienced similar tragedy in his first year in office where the Foreign Affairs Ministry and Ex-President Rawling's house were raised down into ashes. I am convinced that the men of God told him something.

Assuming without admitting that our spiritual masters are not able to hear the voice of God these days, on the physical side, what is the state of our National Security machinery? We need some explanation from those whose job is to provide security for the country. Upon refreshing my mind on Article 83(2) of the 1992 Constitution, it is quite clear that the President presides at meetings of the National Security and in his absence the Vice-President presides. Similarly, on the functions of the National Security Council in Article 84(a), they are expected to consider and take appropriate measures to safeguard the internal and external security of Ghana. Has the national security delivered on its constitutional mandate? How can we have fires happening every now and then without the National security and intelligence agencies getting a tip-off about them? How can the President have daily intelligence briefings from state agencies paid to do specific jobs and yet, we still have these challenges. Would we be surprised if we wake up one day to find that fire has guttered the Castle and Jubilee Flagstaff house? This could be a demonstration of the Achilles' heel of our National Security apparatus.

I am afraid we cannot continue to spend the tax payer’s money on the national Security Council and intelligence agencies if they cannot tell us the causes of these fire outbreaks. If fires can destroy several markets without anybody knowing the causes of these fires, then the President who chairs the National Security Council has some explanations to give Ghanaians. I am tremendously demoralized that our President has not been able to tell us the causes of these fire outbreaks, but has called on the American government to end the fire outbreaks for us. I thought this is a duty of government. Where is our independence as a self-governing country? Does this suggest that we do not have the competence and wherewithal to do anything for ourselves in this country? Could this be a measure of inadequacy of the President, especially when some high profile members of the government have peddled conspiracy theories attributing the cause of the fire outbreaks to arson? The question is, why are the arsonists not arrested by now?

The truth is that there are laid down fire prevention drills that we must all understand and adhere to. We all know that, when electrical sockets are overloaded, they overheat, degrade the insulation and result in direct contact with ignitable elements around. Also, are we not aware that careless disposal of cigarette stubs at markets, illegal connection of electrical sources of energy, and misuse of naked lights like candles, mosquito coils and incense, cookers and gas cylinders are all sources of fire, even though some fire outbreaks can also be caused through arson.

Not too long ago, H.E. President John Dramani Mahama directed the internal security agencies to step up their investigations into the recent fire outbreaks in the country when the Achimota substation of the Ghana Grid Company caught fire which resulted in a black out in parts of the capital. We have still not received any report from the security agencies. Does it mean that they are still conducting investigations?

Obviously, this is not the first time a sitting President has issued a directive to security agencies to investigate fire outbreaks. When the late President Mills inaugurated and presented 54 fire tenders to the Fire Service at the forecourt of the State House on 14th June 2011, he similarly charged the Ghana National Fire Service to investigate the causes of the fire out breaks in the markets and provide solutions to them. Did the Ghana National Fire Service conduct investigations into the causes of those fire outbreaks? If yes, why has it taken them too long to announce their findings from their investigations into the tragic fire at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kokompe Market, Asafo and Kumasi Central Markets, Takoradi Market Circle, Mallam and Madina Markets, Makola No.1, Sodom and Gomorrah Community and several other public facilities? How long will it take for the report on the more recent ones like the Kantanmanto and Makola No.2 Markets? We have been told a million times by officers of the Ghana National Fire Service that many of the fires are preventable. If we know the problem, why do we not have solutions? The Police and the Ghana National Fire Service should tell us the number of people convicted and charged from these investigations.

One is interested in knowing the kind of education the ECG and Fire Service give to the public on tackling dire situations like fire outbreaks. How is the ECG for instance ensuring that pre-paid meters are easily obtainable without any out of the sun dealings and corruption? Do we have enough fire safety measures like fire exit points and fire extinguishers in our markets and other public places? How many of our markets have Fire Safety Certificates as stipulated in the Ghana National Fire Service 1997 (Act 537)?

Similarly, section 4 of Act 537, enjoins the Ghana National Fire Service to provide technical advice for building plans in respect of machinery and structural layouts to facilitate escape from fire, rescue operations and fire management as well as train and organise fire volunteer squads at community level. It is important the Fire Service adopts the latest technologies and fire prevention methods to help them hold back future fire outbreaks and prepare them for effective damage control. In the same way, they have a responsibility to ensure that Act 537 is fully complied and executed. If the citizens are the cause of the problem, the Fire Service should be empowered enough to be able to deal with them.

Regrettably, we seem to play politics with every issue in this country. I vividly recall that in 2008, during a mini rally organized by the NDC at the various markets and lorry parks within the Odododiodio constituency and the Central Business district of the capital as part of the “door to door” campaign of the late President Mills, the former MP for Odododiodio, Mr Jonathan Nii Tackie Komme told the market women and traders that people depended on markets either for their livelihood or to do their purchases and said such places should be well developed to be suitable for the important role they play in the lives of people irrespective of their political and other affiliations. The market women welcomed the idea with the hope that if the NDC won power, they were going to pay special attention to the markets. As emblematic of the NDC, when the party won power in 2008, the desire to improve the markets out of the blue vanished from the better Ghana Agenda and nothing has been done to our markets as we speak.

Considering the amount of money people are losing and the eventual economic loss to the state through these unwanted fire outbreaks, the authority of the President as the Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces is badly needed in shutting down these fire outbreaks.

Your Excellency, with due respect, act and stop your men from guesstimating for this is a sine qua non!

Food for thought in a fire blazing Ghana

By: Paa Kow Ackon