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3 Arrested Over Ministry Fire

mills_mahama.THE MINISTER of Foreign Affairs, Alhaji Mohammad Mumuni, has stated that he suspects foul play over the 12-hour inferno that devoured his ministry’s building Wednesday night, as the police have arrested three persons on suspicion of having a hand in the incident.

Speaking to the BBC from Malawi where was performing official functions, Alhaji Mumuni disclosed that he had a strong suspicion that the building was deliberately set on fire. Greater Accra Regional Police Commander, DCOP Rose Bio Atinga, also said the police believed it was a case of arson: “that is, the fire was deliberately caused”.

DCOP Bio Atinga, who was among a large number of government officials, including President John Evans Atta Mills and his Vice John Mahama, that visited the fire scene, announced that three suspects had been arrested by the police in connection with the inferno which destroyed official documents, equipment and the entire structure of the Foreign Affairs Ministry building in Accra.

She said those three persons, whose names she declined to mention, were in and around the building at the time of the fire and therefore had come under suspicion. The area had since been declared a crime scene and a no-go area to the public, to allow for a full scale investigation into what caused the havoc.

President John Evans Atta Mills, when he visited the scene, was seen staring in shock at what was left of the building. According to the President, there had been a series of attempted ploys by unknown detractors to tarnish the image of his administration, citing the fire incident as a case in point.

He assured the staff of the ministry who were left stranded that a full-scale investigation will be conducted into the incident. “I am not interested in scapegoats; I am not interested in witch-hunting; I am only interested in the truth and once the truth is unearthed, we will know how to deal with cases of this nature,” he noted.

However, an eyewitness to the incident, Morgan A. Brown, a Director at the Ministry, was reported on myjoyonline.com as saying the fire started at around 4.00pm Wednesday due to a faulty air conditioner, but with the help of fire extinguishers, the fire was put out.

A technician, according to him, was called in to assess the situation and give expert advice. The technician, he said, advised that once the fire had been put out, he would attend to the faulty air conditioner first thing Thursday morning.

Mr. Brown said ‘an hour or so’ later, the fire started again, this time with such intensity that it became practically impossible to contain, so fire fighters were called in. Fire men who responded to the call did not have the requisite equipment to do a thorough job, and their spokesperson told the media they concentrated their efforts on stopping the fire from extending to other public buildings in the vicinity, since trying to save anything in the fire-engulfed building would be a sheer waste of time.

Asked what were destroyed in the inferno, Mr. Brown said all equipment, air conditioners “and worse of all, the documents we have lost”. Sections of the first and sixth floors housing the minister’s office and the Public Affairs Department were the only offices that escaped the blaze.

Efforts had been made to build back ups for the institutional memory of the ministry, but those efforts were yet to be fully implemented when the disaster struck, he stated.The Director said though bitter, the disaster had taught the authorities a lesson which would not be lost on anyone as far as creating back-ups for essential files in all public offices was concerned.

He expressed the hope that ongoing consultations would yield results as soon as possible to enable the about 500 people who lost their offices to find places from where they could continue with their work.

By 7:30pm when the fire was at its peak, burning an assortment of office equipment on its way in the 10-storey structure, a large crowd of curious onlookers had taken position at vantage points to behold the seemingly uncontrollable destruction.

Fire personnel who spoke to journalists were unhappy with media reports suggesting they looked on while the fire raged. President Mills stated that a committee would be set up immediately to look into circumstances which led to the incident.

He thanked God that nothing untoward happened to the staffers, urging them not to be discouraged with the situation at hand but have hope that everything would be normal again. President  Mills was in the company of the Vice President, John Mahama, Attorney General and Minister of Justice Betty Mould-Iddrisu, Works and Housing Minister Albert Abongo, Minister for the Interior Cletus Avoka and his deputy, Dr. Kwesi Appiah-Adu, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Paul Tawiah Quaye, Accra Mayor Dr. Alfred Vanderpuije and other government officials.

He indicated that government would equip the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) to live up to the challenge of facing future fire outbreaks. Fire fighters who were deployed to douse the blazing fire from Wednesday evening to Thursday morning complained bitterly about not having equipment such as turntable ladder which could even fly over taller structures. “It could have helped us put out the fire without struggling like we did on Wednesday”.

Established many years ago, the GNFS is faced with several management and operational challenges including the use of outmoded equipment, lack of insurance policies for fire fighters and unattractive working conditions.

The cry of these gallant life savers are that government ought to equip them with contemporary and sophisticated fire fighting tools to be in tune with the trends of buildings in the country. The extent of damage is not known instantly because investigations had just started to ascertain the cause and cost, which probably might run into several millions of Ghana cedis.

Station Officer Grade 1, Seth Nii Otoo, told DAILY GUIDE that about 50 fire men were deployed for the exercise. He said they had four fire engines with only three water tankers. Hundreds of staffers, elegantly dressed for work, were sighted on Thursday morning murmuring among themselves, expressing shock at what had befallen them.

Urgent consultations, President Mills said, were underway in a bid to relocate the workers temporarily to continue with their administrative routines.

Source: dailyguideghana

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