Strange Fire Burns Judgement Debt Commission

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Gifty Arthur

A major fire, gutted sections of the historic Old Parliament House, opposite the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum in Accra, and destroyed records of the Sole Commissioner, sitting on Judgment Debt Payments, including the controversial sale of state-owned oil drillship, belonging to the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) by the Kufuor administration.

The blaze, also destroyed the main chamber of the old Parliament House, the offices of staff supporting the Sole Commissioner, Appeal Court Judge, Justice Yaw Appau and state properties, including documents, computers, air conditioners, printers, televisions sets and radio sets.

Yesterday’s fire incident, also revealed the lackadaisical attitude of some officers and men of the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS), towards fire disasters, despite huge investments pumped in their operations, including the purchase of 125 brand new Fire Tenders at US$49 million, under the auspices of the United States Exim Bank.

The inferno, started at 3:45 am. Indeed, one Isaac Morgan, a Security Officer on duty, has said that when the fire was detected, he made frantic calls to the Fire Service, but had no response. He said, he had to drive to the offices of GNFS in person to inform them about the unfortunate incident, before getting them to start battling the fire.

Sadly, the Fire Tenders, were brought without water, hence the Tema Region had to be called in to bring their Fire Tenders to help put out the blaze in the building, which also houses the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO).

The Finance, PR and Research Departments, Public Education Department, Anti-Corruption Department, Library, Research Unit, and Store of CHRAJ were all destroyed.

Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists, have labelled the incident as another strange happening, involving yet another investigation into some controversial government decision.

In 2009, when the rice case involving onetime Foreign Affairs Minister in the Kufuor regime, Akwasi Adjei, the Foreign Affairs Ministry got completely burnt with records destroyed. Various records department of Lands Commission in Accra, have also been burnt when investigations started into fraudulent sale of state lands to political cronies started.

The sale of the drillship to defray a controversial judgement debt owed French Bank, Societe Generale with political actors, including ex-Energy Minister, Albert Kan-Dapaah and his onetime Deputy, K.T. Hammond, who were deeply involved in the sale, giving varying figures and conflicting accounts, which were not in sync with available documents, dating as far back as 2001.

But George William Dove, Public Relations Officer (POR), at the Commission of Inquiry into Judgement Debt, yesterday downplayed the significance of the fire in a press statement copied The Herald.

According to him, “the Commission of Inquiry into Judgement Debt wishes to assure the general public, especially its stakeholders, that even though the fire incident was severe, it did not affect any life. Again, it would not seriously affect the Commission’s work” adding “…the Commission will relocate and the new location will be announced soon”.

The statement said, “The Commission of Inquiry into Judgment Debt is also grateful to the general public for their concerns and unflinching support not only at this time but since the commencement of its work”.

The Commission Mr. Dove said, was awaiting the Fire Report from the Fire Service to know the cause of the fire.

“The Commission of Inquiry into Judgment Debt furthermore wishes to take this opportunity to express its gratitude to the Ghana National Fire Service, the Ghana Police Service, the Ghana Armed Forces and the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) for their prompt response which ensured that the fire was put out”, the statement said.
Lawyer for the Commission, Dometi Sokpor in a radio interview on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show said that although many of the Commission’s documents have been destroyed in the fire, they have not been lost. He said originals of important documents have been kept in a secured location.

He was optimistic that the Commission would have made alternative arrangements for a new location for the Judgment Debt hearings by January 16, 2014 when sitting resumes.

Media reports claim that the fire fighting efforts by personnel of the Fire Service was greatly hampered, cars parked in the compound of the building complex could not be moved, because the keys to the cars were in one of the rooms that was on fire. A shoeshine boy has been arrested for stealing a DSTV digibox, while helping staff of CHRAJ with rescue efforts.

As at the time The Herald visited the disaster scene, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Mrs. Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, was seen in the company of fire officers touring the remains of the damaged structure learning at first hand, the extent of destruction.

Though shocked by the disaster, Mrs. Appiah-Oppong, commended personnel who at the time of her visit were still fighting the blaze.

She was later joined by the Director of EOCO, Mr. Biadela Mortey Apkadzi, whose outfit had it fair share of the inferno. At the time of leaving the place yesterday, discussion were ongoing between the Attorney-General and some officials of CHRAJ, EOCO and others institutions, under her which operates from the building about having a possible emergency meeting on the inferno.

In a related development, a statement signed by a Deputy Information Minister, Felix Kwakye Ofosu said, “Government can confirm the unfortunate outbreak of a fire at the old Parliament House in Accra in the early hours of this morning.

The statement continued that “the fire which gutted historically significant building where a number of important state bodies had their offices was brought under control in a matter of hours by the Ghana National Fire Service”

“An investigation”, said the statement has been launched to determine the cause of the fire.

“owing to the importance of the state organizations affected by the fire, government wishes to assure all Ghanaians that urgent steps are being taken to find them temporary offices where they can continue critical work for the state”, concluded the statement

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