GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — Guyana’s government says it will pay $25,000 to parents of each of the 20 children burned to death in a fire at a state-run high school in May, as part of a settlement to avoid any further claims in the case.
The country’s main opposition party slammed the settlement in a statement Tuesday saying it provided too little money for the families and was aimed at avoiding obligations to address safety issues raised by the fire, at a boarding school for indigenous families in the town of Mahdia in Guyana’s interior.
The May 21 fire in a heavily fortified girl’s dormitory killed 19 female students and the son of a school administrator. Officials say one of the students deliberately set the fire, and she has been arrested and charged with murder.
Announcing the settlement late Monday, Attorney General Anil Nandlall said the families had requested the cash to “enhance their ability to continue to provide for their families” and that they all had signed agreements with the government.
The state also had taken care of all burial and related expenses back in May and June. One badly burned girl was sent to a New York hospital for specialized treatment.
The main opposition party, A Partnership For National Unity, APNU, said in a statement that the settlement wasn’t sufficient because the money isn’t enough to build a house in the capital, much less in the interior where materials are more expensive to transport.
“These students died whilst in the care and custody of the state and so the state has not been doing a favor to the families,” opposition lawmaker and attorney Amanza Walton said in the statement.
Walton accused the government of trying to insulate itself from obligations to follow recommendations by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, or UNICEF, to address safety issues at state-run dorms, including by changing the practice of placing iron grills on widows and padlocks on doors.
Meanwhile, the government is preparing to appoint a commission of inquiry into the tragedy in the coming weeks. Retired army chief of staff Maj. Gen Joseph Singh has been appointed to head the panel, but its other members have not yet been named.