Chairman of the Melcom Group of Companies, Bhagwan Khubchandani, says the company has learnt important lessons and has become an even better and stronger brand after the unfortunate November 7, 2012 accident in which a six- storey building which used to house the Achimota branch of the Mall collapsed and claimed some 14 lives.
“After the Achimota fiasco, we have been extremely careful and we have employed the services of a Structural Engineering company that is recognized and certified by the government of Ghana to do a thorough and proper checking of all our properties across the country whether built or rented. Although this comes at a cost, we believe it is very necessary because we have learnt our lessons,” Mr. Bhagwan Khubchandani disclosed in his first official interview after the incident.
Explaining further, the Melcom Chairman said major structural renovations have taken place in almost all of the company’s facilities and it has become a matter of policy that Melcom would not occupy any building unless professional engineers have checked and recommended it is approved for occupancy.
“There is this new shop which we should be opening in June at Techiman but our engineer has advised us not to move in and we are currently doing all the necessary reconstruction works on the building although we have already paid some $50,000 to finish the building. We cannot go in there until we have redone all the recommended reconstruction works to meet international standards. Our Bolgatanga building was ready some four months ago and although all the engineering work is good, we have requested for an occupancy certificate before we move in because we cannot be fooled twice,” the Chairman added.
When asked whether Melcom had paid all compensation due victims of the accident, Mr. Bhagwan Khubchandani said the company had given the compensation package to the Labour Commission to disburse as required by law. He said Melcom was not paying the compensation packages directly to the victims or their next of kin but had rather relied on the Labour Commission. He added: “I’m glad the Labour Commission is in charge of the distribution of the compensation and we have paid them all what they requested for disbursement based on what they told us how much to pay each affected person. I pray and hope they would do this as soon as possible. We would not have been in the position to know who the next of kin is for each of the victims and to also fairly determine what each affected person in entitled to.”
Bhagwan Khubchandani recounted his experience of the disaster that shook the country: “I was driving to my office when I heard of the accident I wanted to drive there immediately but I was advised not to because emotions were flying high and one could not predict what would happen, moreover I was told that the National Disaster Management Organization, our management team, the National Ambulance Service and other rescue teams were there handling saving lives.
But I insisted and when I got there I was in shock at the tragedy. We had occupied this building 14 months earlier and if you had seen the building, it was a very beautiful edifice and we did not have that technical expertise to have seen that there was something wrong with the pillar or depth of foundation and all those technicalities…
“The victims were sent to various hospitals and we eventually had to move from one hospital to another visiting each of them and giving all the help we could by supplying food and drinks before they were properly treated and some referred to other hospitals.”
Melcom is the largest retail outlet in Ghana and has some 26 malls scattered all across the country. Its shops are on record to have the largest variety of goods under one roof. They trade in some 40,000 different items ranging from electrical appliances, furniture for home, schools or offices, groceries, upholstery, kitchen and dining wear, beverages to clothing and foot wear.