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Our flawed fact-finding committees

May 22, 2014 - 1:41:29 am

When His Excellency the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior took over his post, he focused on forming fact-finding committees, not interrogation committees. He did this with the aim of finding out the causes behind problems and proposing solutions. 

When the fact-finding committee released its report about the flooding of a Salwa Road tunnel, I expected that the committee would say that the amount of rainfall that day was higher than the capacity of the Mesaimeer underground storage tank, and they would suggest expanding the storage capacity of the tank until the rainwater disposal network is completed in 2019.

However, I was surprised to discover that the committee had turned into an interrogation panel. It called for bringing certain Ashghal officials to account, which is outside the panel’s mandate.

The same day, I published an article titled “Facts and the fact-finding committee”. The fact-finding committee on Qatar’s gas leak published its report on the unusual smell reported by many people in some areas, in which it denied any gas leak or harm to people’s health. 

The committee said in its report that the smell that wafted through the air on March 21, 2014 was similar to that of natural gas. This was the first time I had heard such a thing. It is unbecoming of the committee to lie to us and describe sulfur dioxide and octane as similar to gas. In doing so they treat us as people who do not understand anything. 

Whoever read the report of the committee could easily see that it had glossed over facts, particularly if the person had some knowledge of the hydrocarbons industry. The committee indirectly hinted at the reasons behind the smell, but still did not directly mention them. 

The report said there was a high concentration of some pollutants, adding that maintenance activities were behind the leaks.

If we link the reports of the committee, we can see that human error, I think, was behind the gas leak that day. To do maintenance work, workers had done some digging in the area close to the factories, which caused gas produced by bacteria that feed on petrochemicals to leak from the ground. Some of these petrochemicals are toxic while others just have a bad smell. 

This caused air pollution, and in order to handle this problem the workers pumped in some other gases. Because the procedure was not well-managed, sulfur dioxide and octane filled the air. The strange thing is that the committee blamed weather conditions for the problem. To them, I would like to say: Please have more respect for our brains. The smell of gas would not have reached the Industrial Area if there were no gas in the air and strong winds.

The committee also said that the gases would not have any harmful effect on public health and that the gas levels did not exceed national safety standards. The fact is that the committee did not include representatives of the Supreme Council of Health. The aforementioned gases are dangerous and toxic. Sulfur dioxide causes suffocation, chest pain, dry cough, infection of the trachea and hardening of the lungs. Octane affects human skin, eyes and lungs, and causes headache and dizziness. It can also affect the kidney’s functions.

Lying more to the public, the committee thanked the public for its cooperation with the agencies concerned by enquiring about the reasons for the smell. It said these enquiries reflected the high level of awareness of the public in general. It did not cross the minds of the committee’s members that people started enquiring about the smell only after they began suffocating from it. I am sorry to say that the committee treated us as a bunch of stupid people who do not understand anything. 

Qatari newspapers reported the same week that in the light of the results of tests done by the Central Lab, the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning had recalled a certain type of drink from the local market because it had violated the food law and did not meet Qatari standards. Such a recall does not help those who might have consumed the drink before its recall and exposed themselves to harm.

This also means that the Standardisation and Specifications Authority had failed to prevent a harmful product from entering the market. 

The question I want to put to officials in our country is: Why do they want to bring to account a specific agency that did its work properly while turning a blind eye to other agencies that commit mistakes? 

Qatar deserves the best. The country’s Emir and its Prime Minister are making huge and unrelenting efforts to give whoever lives in this country a better life. They, however, cannot take the right decision unless correct information is available to them.

By twisting facts, some agencies in our country prevent us from finding solutions to problems. These agencies even make problems more complicated. This leads, in the end, to our country taking steps backward, not forward. 

I do not blame the heads of commissions but the technicians and specialists who work in these panels. This is why I suggest that His Excellency the Prime Minister form fact-finding commissions from the Interior Ministry.