No lessons learned after Villaggio. The smoke continues well after the fire.
What happened in Villaggio on 28 May 2012 was one of the biggest disasters in Qatar. The case is still in court, pending decision. There has been a degree of social furor, but apparently not enough to bring about a significant change in procedures or attitude.
The Ministry of Interior applied intensive safety and security checks in all the city malls; City Center was shut down for several weeks pending changes to its safety system. It seemed like preparedness in case of fire was taken much more seriously, with improved systems and regular fire and evacuation drills in buildings across the country.
However, almost of this is negated by the actions of a small group of people who are presumed to be above the law, at least in certain places.
Walk by Starbucks in Landmark mall anytime of the day, and you’d find people (majority of whom are men in thobes), sipping a coffee and smoking a cigarette. There are no ashtrays plus there’s a no smoking sign, but the customers use the plastic cups or mugs as ashtrays.
Repeated complaints by patrons to both the management of the mall and the café have only fallen on deaf ears.
The sorry excuse made by those at the café is that the customers ‘don’t listen’.
The mall security who are responsible for patrolling the property are not empowered enough to confront the smokers, and even under threat of filing a complaint to the police are reluctant to stop the practice.
When has that been an acceptable reason to not enforce the law?
As per the anti-smoking law (Law No. 20 of 2002) smoking is prohibited in various types of closed public places such as buses, clubs and commercial centers.
The fine for violating the anti-smoking/tobacco use law will range from QR200 to QR500. For a first-time offender, it will be QR200; for recurring offences, the offender has to pay the full penalty.
So why not ask them to leave your property or call the law enforcers on them?
One of the cafes at the Hyatt Plaza that refused to comply with the non-smoking policy was not allowed to renew its lease. As drastic as that move was by the management, that is not a long-term solution.
Enforcing the law, taking punitive action against the violators and better education and awareness are crucial.
Why the violations at Landmark are of graver concern is because the café is next door to the food court and children’s play area. It brings back memories of a year ago. How can this lesson be ignored?