Sport Minister Frank Anthony on Thursday said that the National Aquatic Centre, at Liliendaal will be opened to experienced swimmers once a sufficient number of lifeguards have been hired.
He was at the time commenting to Stabroek News about a protest that had been staged earlier in the day by APNU and AFC activists as well as columnist Freddie Kissoon over the unavailability of the facility to the public.
“The pool at Liliendaal for the time being it is basically being used for the National Swimming Association… [but] we have been looking at the idea of opening [it] to the public and have advertised already for lifeguards but [are] yet to get the required amount,” Anthony said, while noting that the Olympic-standard pool is not intended for novice swimmers.
“…Even when we get the required number [of lifeguards], we will not let people there to learn to swim because the pool is deep and cannot accommodate learner swimmers,” he added, noting that persons would be screened before being allowed to use the facility in order to ensure that they could swim properly.
Anthony also contended that the Colgrain pool is available to the public. Told by Stabroek News of reports that members of the public have had difficulty accessing Colgrain, Anthony said that demand may be the issue. “Colgrain pool you can go and register for one of the programmes and go swim… I am not aware of that (the difficulty). You have a programme there in the morning and the afternoon. If the class is filled, then that’s another story but we have right now that Japanese coach and that is what I know,” the Minister said.
Speaking about the Castellani House pool, Anthony said, “It’s a pool under the Office of the President and was used with the permission and discretion of Office of the President. The National Swimming Association used to use it at the discretion of OP since Cheddi’s (former President Cheddi Jagan) days. Before then, it was exclusively a private pool.” He added that now that the Association is using the Aquatic Centre, swimming clubs may ask for the same discretion and usage of the Castellani pool.
The minister stressed that since the focus now is on a warm-up pool for the aquatic centre, another public pool would have to wait. However, given the demand and the nationwide interest in having a public swimming facility, his ministry plans to look into it.
Members of the public have frequently complained of limited public facilities for swimming, forcing children and others to take deadly risks at the seawall and in canals. Several children recently drowned in such incidents.
On Thursday, AFC and APNU members and activists Freddie Kissoon and Mark Benschop protested outside of the aquatic centre, calling for full public access to at least one of the three pools.
“We are arguing that at least one of the pools, if not all three, should be opened to the public even if for a fee… if we are looking at youth development, then implement programmes for them. You have a pool that is idle here and children are drowning across the country because they don’t have a facility which they can go and learn to swim and be supervised,” said Gerhard Ramsaroop of the AFC.
“When we ask about what is going on, we are referred to Neil Kumar, who has to himself give permission before anyone uses this pool. This is ludicrous …you hear members of parliament heckling go swim in ‘The Blacka’ and about who used to bathe in ‘The Blacka,’” he added, referring to the Lamaha Canal.
Another protestor, Michael Carrington, also of the AFC, lamented, “As a national swimmer in the ’80s, this is very upsetting to me. Since the ’80s, the state said they would rebuild a national pool after closing the Luckhoo swimming pool. We waited for that in vain and now we are still waiting. This pool can pay for itself if it is opened to the public. There are thousands of children who want a pool to go to. Charge a fee and maintain it and have it pay for itself and save the taxpayers some money.”
APNU activist Malcolm Harripaul, meanwhile, said “The Government of Guyana has literally spent close to $1B (on the aquatic centre) and now seeking over $300M to maintain it and it’s not being used. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money. Open a pool for the children. A lot of kids have nowhere to go for recreation and now only the privileged few can access it and that should change immediately.”