CoI into Mahdia dorm fire begins hearing

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the devastating fire at the female dormitory of the Mahdia Secondary School in Region Eight, which claimed the lives of 20 children, began its proceedings on Friday.

Chairman of the COI, Major General (retired) Joseph Singh assured that the commission is committed to conducting the inquiry with transparency, efficiency, and sensitivity as outlined in the Terms of Reference (ToR).

From Left Commissioner Mr. Derrick John, Chairman, Major General (retired) Joseph Singh, and Commissioner Dr. Joycelin Kim Kyte-Thomas at the opening of the Commission of Inquiry (COI)

“It is also our duty to act in the best interests of all minors affected by this tragedy and to ensure that references to the deceased are dealt with in a dignified manner,” he said in his opening statement.

To achieve this, the commission will adhere to the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2018, adopt best practices, and uphold international standards to protect the interests of the minors involved.

The approach aligns with the Laws of Guyana – Commissions of Inquiry Act, Chapter 19:03, Section 9, which grants the commission the authority to establish rules for its own guidance.

Major Singh said all hearings involving minors and relatives of the deceased and injured will be conducted in-camera. The public hearings are anticipated to conclude within one month.

Singh noted that upon the completion of the inquiry, the commission will provide President Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali with a comprehensive, impartial, and meticulously detailed report.

A total of 15 witnesses, including ministers, survivors, and first responders, are expected to provide testimony during the inquiry.

Steve Jerome, the father of the boy who died in the fire, was the first witness to give evidence on day one of the CoI.

Jerome, hailing from Micobie, served as the dormitory father at the male dormitory of Mahdia Secondary School. He was also the father of another child who was in the building at the time of the fire.

He was followed by Mohamed Yacoob Mazaharally, a pilot attached to Air Service Limited, who captained one of the aircraft that was part of the medical evacuation on the night of the fire.

On May 21, Guyana and the world were shocked and saddened by a tragic event at Mahdia Secondary School which claimed the lives of twenty students, originating from various Amerindian communities, and destroyed the dormitory.

In response, President Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali established a commission on August 10, 2023, appointing Major General Singh as Chairman, and Dr Joycelin Kim Kyte-Thomas and Derrick John as other members.

Attorney at Law, Keoma Griffith is leading evidence into the inquiry, while Attorney at Law, Javed Shadick is serving as the secretary.

The commission’s main objectives are to investigate the causes of the dorm fire and examine the response to provide care and support to the injured and their families, as well as the families of the deceased.

The commission will also offer recommendations and observations to prevent such tragedies in the future.