The government, through the Ministry of Education, spent $79 million following the Mahdia fire tragedy to comfort families, meet the needs of the surviving Mahdia fire victims, and cushion the expenses associated with the funeral.
With separate responsibilities being given to the different ministries during the horrific fire in May, the Education Ministry did its part to help the affected families.
This was revealed by Chief Education Officer (CEO), Saddam Hussain, who testified on Tuesday before the ongoing Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the deadly fire.
“In all, we spent about…$79 million on the entire post-Mahdia tragedy,” the CEO said during the inquiry while referring to the expenses in total. He was not able, at the time, to give a full and detailed account of the figure at the inquiry but said it included other activities such as the reflection night.
Asked by Attorney-at-Law Keoma Griffith, what was the first thing that the ministry did when they heard about the horrific fire late May 21, the CEO said that they dispatched a team early the following morning to Region Eight where the female dormitory was found.
According to him, the team provided ‘immediate emergency assistance’ in the form of $100,000 to the affected families.
“We have a list of all the persons that we gave monies to. Our list indicates that about $5.7 million was distributed. At that time, we could not have asked persons to sign a voucher and those things,” the CEO explained.
This money was to ensure that the parents and siblings of the afflicted students could easily get around gathering necessities for them.
He noted that on the second day, another team went into the area to help coordinate activities between all the ministries and to further assist the parents of both the affected students and the 20 deceased students.
Moreover, Hussain told the CoI that his ministry has since kept a spreadsheet of the various expenses that were paid for from money within the education sector.
“From that list, we tried to compile everything that we spent money on. We spent more than $34 million on air transport bringing out parents, bringing out children, and bringing out the deceased bodies,” Hussain said.
Additionally, the CoI was informed by the education official that more than $12 million was spent by the ministry to accommodate the parents and other family members at different hotels.
Meanwhile, as it pertains to the storage of the bodies and pre-funeral arrangements, it was revealed that around $7 to $8 million were expended at Memorial Gardens in an effort to prepare the bodies for burial.
“We went so far as to spend money on what the family said they wanted. When they came to Georgetown many of the family members had limited forms of communication, so they said they wanted some cellphones and we were able to get those. When the funeral had to happen, the family advised us that they wanted commemorative T-shirts just as a form of closure and we were happy to facilitate that,” the education officer recounted.