Playing with fire

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A 24-year-old young man left home for work and never returned for dinner. A distraught family is still in shock as their son was working in what you would have thought one of the safest places: a supermarket. He was trapped in a fire while running for the fire exit – which was apparently blocked by so many items that it was not an exit at all – and perished.  

The tragedy was compounded by dozens of businesses having to remain closed until the fire consequences were dealt with, thus incurring huge losses. In the vicinity, hundreds of families were subjected to toxic fumes for days. The fire services took two full days to put out the fire, a week to find the remains of the young man’s charred body and nearly two weeks to declare the area safe again for business. 

The reality that transpired after the tragedy is even more tragic: 14 fire trucks out of 32 (nearly half) were out of order. Fire certificates had been issued to buildings which do not fulfill the security criteria.  Only one out of three ladders of the Mauritius Fire Services was usable. Some commercial buildings did not have a fire certificate but were allowed to carry on doing business anyway. No one took any notice. No one seems to care. 

This week’s PNQ in parliament revealed an even more shocking finding. Shoprite is back in business. Nothing abnormal… except that little has been done to prevent a similar tragedy from taking place again, there or indeed anywhere else! Minister Fazila Jeewa-Daureeawoo’s reaction in parliament when faced with this fact? “There is always room for improvement”! How can you beat that?

A government with a vision does not wait for a tragedy of this nature to happen before acting. But we know about the competence and vision of this government so we will not even go down that route. However, one would expect even an inept government to take stock of the situation and take immediate measures to redress the inadequacies and lack of equipment of the fire services. 

Not according to the newly-appointed vice-prime minister, Daureeawoo, who seemed completely out of it when trying to answer the PNQ about how safe we are while carrying out our normal activities. Instead of giving us the calm assurance that we expected, she started shrieking louder than the speaker, at times trying to usurp the latter’s role by asking the opposition leader directly to withdraw his statement and using distasteful sarcasm to show that she is in power while the opposition is not! WTH! 

Admittedly, the minister has been in that position for just over two weeks. However, one expects someone whose salary has become even fatter, who now moves around with the full security detail her predecessor was entitled to, to spend all her time and energy trying to understand what is going on and doing something about it. Instead, she behaves in as base a manner as her male colleagues – repeating their exact arguments: “We need money to repair trucks,” she said with a disarming grin on her face. Really? How much money is wasted in useless overseas trips on ministers and, in some cases, their spouses? How much does your security detail cost us? How much do we pay for your colleagues’ food and yours on the days you sit in parliament repeating, “I am not aware” or, to use your favourite expression, “This is not to my knowledge (Sic)” or, when you are cornered, “What did you do when you were in government?” 

But thank God for Daureeawoo’s sense of humour because, when asked whether Shoprite had at least a fire hydrant in case of another tragedy, her reply was priceless: “They don’t have fire hydrants but they use the water from river (Sic)”! 

Doesn’t the vision of people running to the closest river with buckets to fill put your mind at rest? Thank you, Vice Prime Minister. We were bemused by your chronic silence but your words have left us speechless! What a great performance, live from the front bench! 

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