Fire on Sunday gutted the Head Office Annex of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) along the Ring Road Central (Kwame Nkrumah Circle), leaving the second floor of the VAT House ravaged. It took firemen from the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) about six hours to bring the fire, which started about 7 a.m., under control.When the Daily Graphic got to the scene about half past eight in the morning yesterday, the firemen were still struggling to douse the fire.
The fire had spread from the back of the building to the front, mainly visible on the upper floors of the four-floor storey building which underwent rehabilitation some time in 2010 when three revenue bodies merged to become the GRA. The GRA said the fire caused extensive structural damage to its information and communications technology (ICT) centre at the VAT House but that its data were safe, while no loss of cash or cheques had been recorded.
The Board Chairman of the GRA, Professor Stephen Adei, and the acting Commissioner of the Domestic Tax Revenue Division of the authority, Mr Ammishaddai Owusu-Amoah, said a formal assessment of the extent of damage would begin immediately after the fire was brought under control.
Situation at the scene
The incident drew many people around the Nkrumah Circle to the scene, with motorists driving at a slow pace on the Ring Road Central from the building which houses Busy, an Internet service provider, mainly due to the thick dark billows of smoke which engulfed the sky and made visibility poor. Some inquisitive motorists also parked their vehicles to catch a glimpse of the raging fire, with many having their smart phones hoisted to record videos.
The police were there in their numbers to maintain law and order and also regulate traffic flow. They also guarded entrances to the building to prevent people from entering.The Ghana Armed Forces also came to the scene with their water tankers to support the firemen, while the Ghana Red Cross Society also provided first aid for some firemen who sustained injuries. Also at the scene was a Deputy Interior Minister, Mr Henry Quartey. He was among officials who visited the scene to ascertain the situation at first hand.
The more the firemen sprayed the building with water, the more the fire raged on, since the building had ceramic tile facades that made it difficult for the water to pass to the inside where the fire was most debilitating. The GNFS had to deploy one of its largest fire engines with a platform to provide more accuracy to reach the base of the fire.
The firemen were also impeded by some vehicles parked in front of the building, preventing the fire engines from entering the innermost perimeters of the compound. After about three hours of struggle with the fire, the firemen were able to gain access to the inside of the building and managed to bring the fire under control. However, just when it appeared they had made a breakthrough, the fire re-ignited at another part of the building and worsened the situation.
Delay by the GNFS
An eyewitness and resident of the area, who gave his name only as Frank, said he saw smoke emerging from the building around 6 a.m. and rushed to the place to inform the security men, who made a call to the GNFS to inform the service about the situation.
“We waited for about one hour and the firemen were not coming. Later, we realised the building had caught fire and we went to inform some policemen who were close by. They too called the fire service, but it took another 30 minutes before they brought their tankers. Even with that, they said they could not reach the upper floors of the building and so they had to call for reinforcement,” he said.
Frank added that if the firemen had got to the scene earlier, “I’m sure this wouldn’t have happened; they delayed and that worsened the situation. Even some of the tankers that came here were empty”. Another eyewitness, Mr Iddrisu Mumuni, a pilion rider, said he spotted the fire at the back of the building about 7.30 a.m. and rushed to call the firemen stationed under the new overhead bridge at the Circle.
While the firemen struggled to bring the fire under control, theories were developing among eyewitnesses and by-standers. While some said they believed the fire was a deliberate attempt to set documents ablaze, others dismissed the assumption as petty because such fires, especially those razing state property, had been with the country for many years.
Meanwhile, the GNFS said it could not immediately ascertain the cause of the fire. One official of the service, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the immediate preoccupation was to douse the fire and prevent it from spreading to adjoining buildings.
The Head of Public Relations of the GNFS, DO II Mr Ellis Robinson Okoe, admitted that the situation was very challenging due to the difficulty in accessing the building, considering the height at which the fire was burning. “We even managed to quench the fire and all of a sudden there was an explosion and the fire started again. It even took us by surprise,” he said.
Mr Okoe explained that the fire left the whole of the second floor of the building totally destroyed. He refuted claims that some tankers went to the scene of the fire empty, stating that “every tanker that came here was full of water. The only ones which are empty are those that have been used. The only problem is some could not reach the height of the building”.
No loss of data
Meanwhile, the GRA has debunked claims that an amount of money had been lost in the fire incident at the Head Office Annex. Mr Owusu-Amoah said no loss of money or cheques had been recorded after the fire outbreak. He indicated that the institution had systems back-ups which would ensure the recovery of files, as well as forestall any disruptions to business, adding: “In essence, our core data is safe, as all GRA files are automatically backed up at an off-site data centre.” He pleaded with the public and the media to verify information related to the incident from official sources.
The GRA has advised all taxpayers who used to transact business at the VAT House, to now head to the Kinbu Sub Large Taxpayer Office located at the GRA head office, ministries. It said its Adabraka Medium Taxpayers should transact their tax business at the Adabraka Small Taxpayer Office located near the Adabraka Police Station. The statement also asked clients of the authority to reach it on toll free line 0800 900 102, between 6a.m. and 8p.m. on weekdays or reach it on WhatsApp Numbers 0552990000 and 0200631664.