Local telecom giant Lonestar Cell MTN has taken responsibility for the fire that erupted on the 4th floor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ministry has said.
Assistant Minister for Public Affairs J. Wesley Washington told Executive Mansion reporters yesterday that a team of Lonestar Cell MTN officials visited the ministry early on Wednesday, June 15, and held talks with some top officials. At this meeting, they took full responsibility for the incident and will underwrite the cost of all repair work.
Employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and visitors were evacuated from the building after security alarms went off signaling that the leftwing was on fire.
The fire destroyed one of three distribution panels of the Lonestar Cell MTN server rooms on the 4th floor of the ministry. This server provides Internet and other communication assets to the ministry. The 4th floor also hosts the offices of Foreign Minister Marjon V.
Kamara and her deputy, B. Elias Shoniyin, who were in their offices when the incident occurred.
Presidential Press Secretary Jerolinmek Piah confirmed to reporters that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was in her 6th floor office when the fire was reported, but was never deterred as she had to stay over an hour and half from the time the fire was reported before leaving the building.
In what could be described as a proactive media strategy of swift response to a barrage of rumors that a substantial portion of the building was gutted by the fire, Mr. Piah took scores of journalists on a guided tour of the affected area to ascertain the facts from the incident and the associated damage.
In his clarification, Mr. Piah reiterated that the only part of the building that was affected was a room on the 4th floor, though reports had it that the 4th and 5th floors were hugely affected.
“This tour is meant to establish the facts away from what is being reported out there, some of which are unnecessarily baseless,” he said, further describing as a gross fallacy, information that the incident was an attempt by some unscrupulous individuals to destroy evidence in the ongoing Global Witness report investigations.
The tour also dispelled rumors that the fire damaged several documents, as documents are not kept where the incident actually occurred. However, the closest office to the affected area is the Public Affairs office, where nothing was affected.
Piah disclosed that the Special Presidential Task Force temporarily operated from an office belonging to the Minister of State without Portfolio (Cllr. Fonati Koffa) on the 5th floor of the building, but has its main office in Sinkor.
“Why will people want to report something that they have no clue about? This is the Taskforce office; and you can see for yourself to determine what can be contrasted from what we are reporting and what some of your colleagues are also reporting,” Piah noted.
The fire started in the ICT room, solely controlled by the telecommunications company. It is from this room that Internet and other telecommunications services are transmitted throughout the ministry.
“There was shock in the distribution room that began to put out smoke. That’s how some employees began to take note of what was happening and we began immediate action to contain the fire; and indeed we were successful,” Minister Washington said.
According to him, the ministry had immediately called on the fire service, which arrived on time to help in putting out the fire, adding that this was necessary although employees and some volunteers were already taming the fire.
He said though the fire destroyed the ministry’s Internet connectivity, the ministry will have to rely on other means until the services are restored by Lonestar MTN. Lonestar did not answer or return phone calls made to understand what actually ignited the fire.
Meanwhile, all activities on the 4th floor have temporarily ceased as electrical wires and other appliances were dislocated or destroyed while the fire was being contained.