Investigation and Accountability for the Bilal Boarding School Fire Incident
I hereby call on the IGP to place the Bilal Boarding School under investigation including arresting its proprietor to help in the investigation. That should be an immediate first step by the police. Where lives are lost the necessary law enforcement measures should be immediately undertaken. The children’s lives matter!
The provision of social goods and services to the public is a fundamental human rights issue. People have a right to enjoy quality goods, facilities and services that are safe, efficient and appropriate. Each and every service provider, public or private, should ensure that their facilities, goods and services meet the minimum standards of safety, hygiene and security.
It is the Government that bears primary duty to monitor these facilities to ensure that minimum standards are set for all public and private schools especially boarding schools. These standards should cover health, hygiene, food, lighting, accommodation and safety which includes the training of students on emergency issues. These include how to exit in times of emergency, where to assemble and how to use fire extinguishers and among the students who are the lead safety champions to guide others in times of emergencies.
The story of the proprietor that the kids themselves set the place on fire is untenable. That in itself exposes the lack of safety standards such that children could have access to matches or lighting equipment in their dormitories. If last year a similar fire incident was caused by the children, then the fact that it happens again this year with a far more deadly consequence shows the extremely poor safety measures in that school. The proprietor Alh. Essa Jawara should answer to this issue.
It must be noted that in February this year, a monitoring team from the Directorate of Children’s Welfare including the Child Protection Alliance visited this facility. In their report, they recommended that the school improves its accommodation, hygiene, ventilation, electricity and overall child protection facilities. Therefore, there is need for investigation as to whether these recommendations were implemented or not.
It is obvious that basic security, hygiene and sanitation facilities and measures are generally low in schools and similar facilities across the country. Walk down to any school, whether boarding or not, and you will see the poor, unsafe and unhealthy conditions of the school compound, classrooms, toilets, kitchen, dining areas and dormitories, with poor supply of water and lighting while other necessary safety tools are lacking or in poor conditions. This is unacceptable.
Not only schools, but even hotels, guest houses, bars and restaurants, the story is the same. In many of these places, basic hygiene and security facilities are unavailable. I have been to some hotels and restaurants in the tourism development area only to find a dead fly or a cockroach on my plate or some foreign particle in my glass.
This brings up the issue of monitoring and accountability by the relevant authorities to ensure that consumers rights are protected. Customers who use these facilities have a right to safe and quality goods and services that also meets value for money.
What are the ministries of Health, Tourism, Education, and Children doing to ensure effective oversight of service providers under their purview? What is the Consumer Protection Commission doing? What is the GTBoard doing? Why should these terrible things happen if these bodies are doing routine monitoring?
The fire incident at Bilal Boarding School calls for urgent review of all boarding schools as a start. The National Assembly committees on children and education should take leadership and responsibility to ensure there is review and accountability. The Government itself must lead this process because such incidents also highlight the gross failure of the Government in their monitoring and enforcement roles.
The National Human Rights Commission should visit the school to find out about all human rights issues at play in the school. And indeed CSOs and all citizens should demand investigations and accountability for the terrible incident in this school.
At the end of the day, accountability is what protects us all. If we fail to ensure accountability then we are effectively allowing the existence of poor facilities, poor quality of goods and poor delivery of poor services hence allow violations to take place thereby paving the way for impunity to prevail.
The children’s lives matter!
For The Gambia Our Homeland