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President of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, inspecting the guard of honour at the flag raising ceremony. (CMC photo)

Sombre independence celebrations in Guyana

May 26, 2023

CMC – Guyana is observing its 57th anniversary of political independence from Britain on Friday overshadowed by the deaths of 19 students at a fire at the dormitory of a secondary school on Monday.

President Irfaan Ali, addressing Thursday night’s flag-raising ceremony, which had been dubbed “Night of Reflection”, acknowledged the pain of the nation as Guyanese struggle to come to terms with the loss of the children.

“This tragic day must bring all of you closer together in your schools. Value your friendships. Share abundantly your love and kindness. Shoulder each other’s pains. Counsel each other with wisdom and pressure each other only with good thoughts and actions.

“Never forget the fragility of life. Open yourself to good counsel. Be respectful. Pay tribute to your teachers. Reach for the most distraught among you and give them your hands of friendship. Share from your abundance among those who least have; and always remember, this is your home in which you are gifted life,” he added.

Ali said that the tragedy, though painful as it is, offers that branch of healing, adding “it is not a weapon of self-convenience and selfishness.

“It is not an occasion for aimless rhetoric. Rather, it occasions a deeper understanding of life and requires greater maturity to project a platform for healing, one in which the collective whole is more important than self-ambitions. We confront these challenges as a people, and as a government that you can trust.”

Addressing the ceremony held in Lethem,  the southern Guyanese town near the border with Brazil, President Ali said that a probe would determine the next step.

CMC photo of the deadly blaze at Mahdia Secondary School in Guyana.

“We are also committed to establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the causes and circumstances of the fire which destroyed the dormitory and to enquire into related issues,” he said.

While he did not indicate how soon the Commission would be established he added “the findings of that inquiry will inform the way forward”.

The main opposition coalition, A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC), has already called for an in-depth probe into the circumstances that led to tragedy.

“We demand a thorough investigation into this horrific incident that has resulted in the loss of innocent young lives,” said Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton.

But President urged Guyanese to come together in what political observers said was a veiled criticism Iof the opposition.

“This is not a time for division. This is a time for our people to come together and to support the victims, their families and communities,” he said, adding “ those that perished were the heart traps and pride of their parents who had great hopes for them. The children’s own dreams have been so tragically snuffed out”.

Earlier this week, the police said that a  file would have been presented to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) regarding the findings of their investigations.

They said that a female student may have played a role in setting the fire to the building that housed female students from Mahdia, Campbelltown, Micobie, El Paso and several other villages in the North Pakaraimas in Region 8.

In a statement, the police said that the investigations had so far “reveal that a female student is suspected of having set the devastating fire because her cellular phone was taken away by the Dorm’s mother and a teacher”.

It said that at the time of the fire, there were 57 female students in the one-flat concrete building measuring about 100 feet by 40 feet, with several windows, all grilled, and with five doors. One boy was among the 19 children killed.

Meanwhile, the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has extended “heartfelt congratulations” to Guyana, noting that since its independence, the country “continues to make significant developmental progress and is setting global standards for the sustainable management and use of natural resources”.

In a message CARICOM Secretary General, Dr. Carla Barnett said “CARICOM is sincerely appreciative of the unwavering commitment actively demonstrated by the Government and people of Guyana to our Community.

“The regional integration process is significantly enhanced by Guyana’s leadership to advance Agriculture, Agricultural Diversification and Food Security, for which you, Mr President, have the lead responsibility in the Quasi-Cabinet of the Heads of Government.

“We continue to acknowledge the ongoing warm hospitality extended by the Government to the Community as hosts of the CARICOM Secretariat. It is our sincere hope that the country will draw on the resilience and indomitable spirit that forged its Independence to propel you towards an even more prosperous future,” she added.

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