Construction material destroyed in early morning fire at Public Works Department
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January 8, 2016
Construction material destroyed in early morning fire at Public Works Department

The fire that destroyed construction material stored at the Public Works Department Storage Facility at Arnos Vale appears to be arson, and according to Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, is an attack on the poor, needy and indigent persons of the country.

Yesterday’s fire came days after attempts were made to set fire to the Paul’s Avenue head office of the St Vincent Electricity Services (VINLEC) on January 1 and January 4.

Gonsalves, speaking at a press briefing at Cabinet Room yesterday said the materials that were destroyed were to be used on the homes of needy persons who were affected by natural disasters that affected this country from as far back Hurricane Tomas in 2010 and the Christmas floods of 2013, and to complete 90 housing units under the Lives to Live programme.

He said that there are also persons who have vouchers to collect building materials from that storeroom where the fire took place.

Gonsalves noted yesterday, that if we accept the premise of the police that the fire was arson, “apart from any possible or probable criminal character of this particular fire, this is a fire directed against the poor people of this country, the vulnerable and the marginalised, let us call a spade a spade.”

The Prime Minister said that thankfully the fire was contained “by the brave members of the fire services so that it has not, did not, affect another area of the premises in which we also store building materials.”

He said that he did not want, at this point, to speak to the evidence that commissioner of police Michael Charles drew attention to that concluded reasonably that it is arson.

“Then of course the fire takes place within a broader context. The fire constitutes part of the text, but the context is a broader one in which the Opposition is not prepared to accept that they lost the elections, the elections which we had on December 9 and they are engendering anti-government and anti-supervisor of elections sentiments to a degree that a text can be written metaphorically even they themselves do not write the text that the context is provided”.

Gonsalves said that persons will come to reasonable conclusions that it was arson, but if he were to accuse the New Democratic Party (NDP) of having set the fire, that would be irresponsible.

“I would never do that and no one can reasonably do so, but what we can reasonably say is that a context is being engendered, manufactured in which this kind of behaviour is accorded a veneer of legitimacy, let us speak it for what it is”, stressed the PM.

Gonsalves, also head of the country’s National Security said that if the police officers involved with the investigation are proven correct with their reasonable suspicion of arson, then it is a crime.

“There are two ways in which a fire can occur, one by accident and the other by arson. I do not know that there can be just a spontaneous combustion. We hear about bush fires when they have a drought but at a building, I think that one can reasonably exclude a spontaneous combustion.”

The Prime Minister opined that this fire takes place in the context of persons who are clearly eager to set fires with evidence provided by two instances where Molotov cocktails were thrown at VINLEC and an incident on December 14 (the day Cabinet was sworn in) when NDP protesters set fire to garbage and other materials in front the Y De Lima on Bay Street.

“…some person or persons took certain structures and garbage and put them in the road and lit them, so clearly we have certain persons as a form of political protest, they are not opposed to lighting fires. I not talking metaphorically but literally,” stressed Gonsalves.

He said that he is quite sure that the Opposition would denounce the fire, “and no one would be able to reasonably say that such denunciation is not sincere. But if a contest is manufactured or engendered, where elements whom you are leading for one reason or the other are encouraged to believe the falsehood that the elections were not free and fair that they themselves would be feel motivated to commit unlawful acts”.

An estimate of the damage was not available up to press time.(LC)