Thursday, 2 June 2011

Investigation must be made public

The very serious incident on Tuesday where a sullage tank exploded at the end of the port area causing concern not only in the port itself, but all over Gibraltar, will be an incident that will not be easily forgotten by many people.

First of all we must all be grateful that the incident did not develop into something much more serious where innocent lives could have been lost and with cases of serious injury. In this respect I also trust the workmen who were injured have a speedy recovery.

Congratulations are certainly in order for the tremendous work carried by the essential services in what was a difficult and hazardous operation, this including the brave act of valour we are told by a young RGP officer who deserves all the recognition pertaining to his act of bravery.

Everyone wants to know exactly what happened. And rightly so. This is only natural, especially after the area is made safe and agencies have been stood down. This is where we are now after Tuesday's tank explosion. The fact that the RGP are now leading an official investigation into the possible causes of this incident has heightened the public’s desire to know every aspect concerning this accident.


People will obviously ask questions, make their own assumptions and probably hazard a guess as to why, what and how the whole of Gibraltar was put on full alert, even small children had that worried and silent look on their innocent faces, this alone was a measure of the depth of community anxiety that most of us experienced.

For this reason any investigation conducted into the causes of this major incident must be made public. And if for whatever reason the authorities are not comfortable or do not think that the on-going Police Investigation is the appropriate instrument to share with the general public, then there should also be running in parallel with the police inquiry a comprehensive Health and Safety Investigation. **b** Any Health and Safety Investigation should be able to determine:

• What happened.

• How it happened?

• Should it have happened?

• And what important health and safety standards were violated if any?

Even the design, operation and maintenance of these tanks would come under their competency including the emergency response to this incident.

It would be insane to think that the public who could easily have been put in some catastrophic and immediate danger because of the close proximity of thousands of homes to where the incident occurred would not want to know every aspect leading to the incident itself.

It is not about finding scapegoats, faults or totting up political brownie points, it’s what every democratic society expects, the truth to be told in a clear, open, unambiguous and unbiased manner. Too often this government in particular treats official information as their property, rather than something which they hold and maintain on behalf of the public.

As someone said: ‘Information is the oxygen of democracy. If people do not know what is happening in their society, if the actions of those who rule them are hidden, then they cannot take a meaningful part in the affairs of that society. But information is not just a necessity for people – it is an essential part of good government. Bad government needs secrecy to survive'.

One the basis that the public has “a right to know” and that it is in the public interest for information to be made available, surely the public has to be assured that the area where they live and bring up their children is a safe place to live.

That is why an investigation must be made public.

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