Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 January 2016
What is going on with the Koroma government – is the question on the lips of many Sierra Leoneans today, after another fire is reported at the country’s electricity office in the capital Freetown.
Today’s blaze is the second in just over two weeks.
On the 29 December 2015, the fifth floor of the building was on fire. Incompetence, corruption, neglect and poor governance?
It is still not clear what started that fire in December, let alone trying to second guess what caused today’s blaze.
But there are suspicions of criminality and government’s failure to provide effective risk management strategy across all key government sites.
The national electricity company continues to struggle to meet its running cost, including the payment of workers’ salaries, due to cashflow problems.
Collected revenue does not match the cost of providing the irregular and intermittent supply of electricity to thousands of households across Freetown.
Sierra Leone is regarded as one of the darkest countries in the world, with less than 25% of households having access to electricity. Yet the government says it is spending millions of dollars every month on fuel, to run its gas guzzling power generators that supply electricity to homes and businesses in the capital.
Once again, the task of putting out today’s blaze is left with the country’s poorly equipped fire force, which consistently has long been crying out for urgent and substantial investments in the fire service, if it is to become fit for purpose.
Speaking to Awoko News yesterday, the country’s chief fire officer – Nazim Kamanda Bongay said that the national fire force is over stretched. It is unable to respond effectively to fire disasters around the city, due to the lack of resources.
He told reporters that presently, Freetown has only four fire engines and these cannot meet the needs of the capital. He also spoke about the lack of proper protective clothing, which is making it difficult for fire fighters to respond effectively in dangerous situations.
The chief fire officer (Photo) expressed his frustration to Awoko News, that almost all of the water hydrants around the city are non-functional, and that time spent in collecting water from other available sources, often meant that it is too late to put out a fire.
Speaking at the first International Risk Management and Insurance Seminar, held in Freetown in January 2012, chief fire officer Bongay warned that: “We are in a state where the quantum of arms and ammunition, high explosive materials, high inflammable liquids and gases like petrol, diesel, continue to be on the increase, with little or no proper mechanisms to combat fires that may occur from such explosive and flammable substances.”
He said that: “It is worth noting at this point that, as fire appliances converge at a fire scene and fire fighters position themselves for initial attack; and if the fire is rapidly escalating, the need for larger amount of water almost immediately becomes a priority. If a quick water attack is applied, depending on the output, the fire fighter on the nozzle may only have one or two minutes before the tank runs dry. If the source of supply is to come from a hydrant, then it is essential for fire fighters to locate the nearest working hydrant as a matter of urgency.”
He disclosed that: “Yet in Sierra Leone, it is sad to note that we have very limited fire hydrants in the city, half of which are either closed permanently by road works or turn off by the Guma Valley Water Company. This is a sad scenario indeed.”
He warned the government that: “Repairs of the only existing fire engines is becoming more of a herculean task, because of the bureaucratic arrangements surrounding the repairs of government vehicles.”
Four years on, the plight of the fire service has worsened.
The cause of today’s blaze is not yet known. But it is suspected that criminal syndicates working for powerful and politically connected individuals, that are interested in destroying the records of the company may have once again set the building alight.
As the police opens up another investigation into the cause of yet another fire at Electricity House, they will be met with strong resistance from powerful people, in whose interests such investigations may not be favourable.
The ruling APC party has a poor record on maintaining and protecting public buildings and infrastructures, and this is not helped by its appalling level of investment in new buildings, because of corruption.
There have been several unexplained fires at prominent government offices since president Koroma took office in 2007. And there is the lack of political desire and will to conduct proper investigations that could lead to criminal indictment.
The government’s treasury buildings have been scorched. The office of the registrar of the law courts has been set alight. The office of the national auditor has suffered damage to records caused by unexplained fire.
Records at key ministerial offices at the government Youyi Building were destroyed two years ago, also by an unexplained fire. The national post office building too, has not been spared.
Consistent with these fires, is the rise in reported crimes, such as arson, armed robbery, murder and assault.
The government passed a Bill recently, separating the electricity generating and distribution arm of the business from the sales, billing and revenue collection. The government is hoping that this would bring sanity to the supply of electricity in the country.
But how do you legislate for unscrupulous and politically connected criminal syndicates that are determined to defraud the State and destroy their criminal footprints?
Conspiracy theorists believe that today’s unexplained fire in Freetown could be another politically engineered incident, aimed at burying the IB kargbo Lebanese waste for cash scandal and the latest Ebola death fiasco in the north of the country.