Opposition Parliamentarian Roysdale Forde, SC, has blasted the government over the Mahdia Secondary School dormitory fire settlement, noting that it is an insult to our Indigenous community.
On Monday, news broke that the government would offer the families of the 20 children who died in the horrific fire $5 million.
At the same time, the families of the children who received injuries would get $3 million. The families reportedly signed agreements.
But Forde, who is the Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, said that the monies offered is a “token presentation of the compensatory package to come,” as it is no compensation.
“I categorically condemn the preemptive posture of the government,” Forde said, adding that he hopes the settlement is not a “by-pass” to a credible and independent Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the tragedy and any acceptable monetary compensation that must also form part of the Terms of Reference (ToR).
“The miserly sum announced cannot compensate for the years those children lived, the potential value for the investment in those years, and the potential value of each life.
Government must therefore make public what formula they used to price the grief because it appears as though they just plucked a number from the sky.”
The Member of Parliament added that the sum offered reeks of government manipulation to circumvent the arms of justice from holding the Ali-led administration accountable for their failure to provide a safe and secure dwelling place for the nation’s children held in their protection.
“The parents of Mahdia must not accept this undervaluing of their children’s priceless life. Whilst no amount of money can meet the value for each single life, each family’s loss and trauma, at least some decent effort should be made to show that in this oil-rich country, the fastest growing economy in the world, human life is not cheapened and has value.”
Moreover, Forde posited that the agreement the government had the family or guardian sign as a form of financial aid to constitute a settlement of all claims and actions in relation to injuries resulting in death or not from the fire is unacceptable.
“We need to address our minds to whether these persons were coerced to sign without full understanding of the ramifications. I am inclined to believe the manner in which the Ali-Government sought to sequester and isolate the families, immediately after the tragedy, was guided not by care nor compassion but sinister motive, now made clear by a document families signed absolving the government for any future potential claims for liability and injury. This must be rejected.”
To this end, Forde advanced that the sum offered is not only an insult to our Indigenous community but reinforces his belief that the government does not care for our first people.
“All the talk about the Indigenous people is only talk because their rights are being eroded under this government every day. They are continuously being insulted and exploited by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, as a political organisation and government. The miserly compensation only adds to the growing disrespect.”
After the news broke about the agreement, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall, SC, explained that the families of all the children involved in the fire had varying requests.
As a result, he noted that Cabinet had decided to compensate the families, starting from those who died to children who received severe injuries along with those with minor injuries.
The Attorney General added that the government was not required to provide assistance but took this route due to the prevailing facts.
In fact, in the same breath, Nandlall denied that the government attempted to keep the settlement a secret, noting that the process is still ongoing and no money has been paid yet to the families.
The CoI into the fire, which is expected to be headed by Major General (retired) Joseph Singh, is yet to be empanelled.