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AG condemns politicising of Mahdia fire tragedy

…says Govt providing assistance, not compensation

Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall has denounced claims that Government’s financial assistance to persons affected by the fatal Mahdia dormitory fire is compensation, and has urged persons to avoid politicising the tragic event.
The Attorney General made these remarks in his weekly “Issues in the News” programme, following a recent visit to Mahdia, Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni), where he met with families and community members affected by the fire at the Mahdia Secondary School dormitory in May.
Government last month announced that in addition to medical and mental health support, $5 million would be provided to the families of each of the 20 children who died in the fire.
Nandlall has reiterated that Government’s financial assistance is not aimed at compensating those families for their losses.
“I made it very, very clear that if the Government is to offer hundreds of millions of dollars, it will not be appropriate compensation for the loss of any child,” Nandlall said. “There is no compensation being paid or offered. Compensation is a legal terminology which connotes that there is an acceptance of blame or culpability, or there is a finding of blame or culpability by a tribunal of competent jurisdiction. None of those things have happened,” Nandlall said.
Further, he noted that the Government disclosed the amounts being given to the families as a means of maintaining accountability.
“The intention was to explain that this financial assistance is part and parcel of a series of assistance that the Government is offering and will continue to offer. This is not the end. In any event, the Government is using public funds in these endeavours, and these funds have to be accounted for, and they have to be made public,” Nandlall explained.
Meanwhile, the Government has faced some criticism for the approach adopted in aiding the affected families.
The Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) recently issued a statement regarding what they called a “rush” to settle all possible claims as “disrespectful.” The APA also claimed that families were coerced into signing settlement agreements absolving the State of all liability, and that the monetary assistance can influence the impending Commission of Inquiry (CoI).

Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall

The Attorney General denied these claims and said the CoI would soon be established, and will work independently to investigate the dormitory fire.

“The CoI has an amplitude of power, based upon the terms of reference, to make findings based upon the evidence that will be presented to it. It’s totally unrelated, and will be totally unaffected by what the Government is offering as a form of financial assistance,” Nandlall said.
“The CoI, if they wish, may take that into account, but that is a matter completely within the remit and jurisdiction of the CoI members,” he added.
In light of these claims, Nandlall further called for avoidance of politicisation of the fatal fire.
“Hopefully, people will stop playing politics with the pain, suffering, and anguish of our Amerindian brothers and sisters who are affected by this tragedy,” Nandlall said.
On May 21, a fire that engulfed the Mahdia Secondary School girls’ dormitory claimed the lives of 19 female students and a five-year-old boy. A 15-year-old student was later charged with 20 counts of murder for her alleged involvement in that fire.
Initial reports indicate that that student had her cell phone confiscated, and had previously been suspended for engaging in activities contrary to the rules of the institution, after which she had allegedly threatened to cause “trouble” during an argument with the administrators.