In the next few months, there will be a succession of fire outbreaks in different parts of the country. Locations will range from heavily populated markets to stores alongside the usual bush fires. Millions of Ghana Cedis will be lost, livelihoods will end and scores of people will be reduced to a state of abject poverty and indebtedness. In extreme cases, lives will be lost thus increasing the number of widowed partners, orphaned children, and childless couples. A number of causes ranging from illegal electrical connections, power failure, dry weather and arson, will be postulated as the sources of these fires. I am not a prophet and I certainly cannot see into the future but all these deductions are easy to make because they have become an almost annual occurrence. Nothing will be done to learn more about most of these fires or how they can be prevented. Nothing, unless we can seize the opportunity presented to us with the release of a report last week on the fire that razed down the Central Medical Stores (CMS) in January 2015.
The Central Medical Stores, until they were razed down was Ghana’s biggest supply and distribution center for drugs, medicines, and equipment. Some of the drugs reported to be lost there were crucial for the treatment of diseases, especially HIV and Aids, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Ebola. At the time, estimates of the loss equated to over GHS 200 million but one can only wonder how many lives were lost due to the unavailability of some of the drugs and equipment that were destroyed in the fire. Incidentally, the fire occurred after the then Health Minister, Dr. Kwaku Agyeman-Mensah, had initiated investigations into allegations of corrupt practices at the stores.
An investigation into the cause of the fire was launched and last Friday, more than a year after the CMS fire, the report detailing the investigation into the fires revealed that the fire was deliberately started to destroy evidence of theft, fraud and other corrupt practices occurring in the stores. The report says one Samuel Dogbe is believed to have been contracted by a syndicate of twelve people to set fire to the stores to destroy the supplies and records.
While the twelve suspects have since been interdicted and are being processed for court, the arsonist is believed to be at large and is being searched for by law enforcement officials. While the biggest suspect is still on the run, this case is as good a case as any other case to show our commitment to drastically reducing, and possibly eradicating, this constant spate of fires in the country. Arson is always a suspicion when fires occur and in more than one instance in the past few years, there have certainly been strong indications that some of the biggest fire outbreaks in the country have been started deliberately or not by a person or group of persons. The lack of evidence and suspects has surely contributed to the paucity of prosecutions in times past, and it is not far-fetched to believe that this has certainly emboldened more people to take to this practice. This must end. Too many lives, property, and revenue are lost due to these despicable acts by some very irresponsible people. Certainly, we cannot allow fires to be the new getaway card for people who may be embroiled in cases of corruption or mismanagement. If this case is pursued to the end and any guilty persons are punished for their crimes, it will certainly serve as a warning to potential arsonists.
Ultimately, this CMS report and its findings can help break the cycle of fires in this country. We must not let this opportunity pass.
Author: Ferdinand Senam Hassan, threesixtyGh Writer