Many Ghanaians are troubled by the rate at which public facilities, especially markets, are being burnt in recent times. These fire outbreaks have caused severe damages to life and property, but the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) is yet to review the existing safety regulations and really 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 GH¢8 million on fire disasters every month and that 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 this country, but 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 GNFS has received new fire tenders. If our fire fighters had 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 and kitchen facilities.
Our ability to build standard markets would give way to fire engines and also make it easy to trace the root causes of fire outbreaks. It will also motivate insurers to design insurance 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 ‘prophets’ and yet none of them can tell us whether these fire outbreaks are as a result of a natural disaster or that they are caused by arsonists.
As a Christian, I believe that fires burn for a purpose but 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 burnt to 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 and its citizens. 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 security 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 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 cause, then the President who chairs the National Security Council has some explanations to give Ghanaians.
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, even though some fire outbreaks can be caused through arson, 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 potential causes of fire outbreaks.
Not too long ago, President John Dramani Mahama directed the 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, resulting in a power blackout 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 into that incident?
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 Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) at the State House on June 14, 2011, he similarly charged the security apparatus to investigate the causes of fire outbreaks in the markets and provide solutions. Did the GNFS 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 reports on the more recent ones like the Kantanmanto and Makola No.2 Markets to be made public? We have been told a million times by officers of the Fire Service that many of the fires are preventable. If we know the problem, why do we not have solutions? The Police and the 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 GNFS 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 under-hand 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 the markets have Fire Safety Certificates as stipulated in the Ghana National Fire Service Act 537 of 1997?
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 in the event of a fire, rescue operations and fire management as well as train and organise fire volunteer squads at community levels. 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 with and executed. If the citizens are the cause of the problem, the Fire Service should be empowered well enough to be able to deal with them.
Regrettably, we seem to play politics with every issue in this country. In the run-up to elections, people who seek public office would make all kinds of promises to Ghanaians, among which the provision of ultra-modern markets often features prominently especially when they meet traders and market women to solicit for votes.
Market centres apart from the role they play in the country’s economic development, also play an important role as sources of livelihood for people without discrimination on either political, ethnic or religious background. As a matter of urgency, therefore, the Government should pay special attention to the development of markets throughout the country devoid of lip-service. Also, considering the amount of money individuals are losing and the eventual economic loss to the state through these fire outbreaks, the authority of the President as father for all and as Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces is badly needed to deal with the situation permanently. The time to act is now.
By Christabel Addo & Paa Kow Ackon