Anyone who has any feeling for the architectural heritage of Georgetown must be in despair every time they pass City Hall – if they can bear to look at it at all, that is. What is the matter with those who sit in authority over us that they cannot see that one of the capital’s architectural and historical treasures is disintegrating before their eyes? What is the matter with them that they do not think that this is a scandal? Why have they abrogated their responsibility to the citizens who live here and now, as well as future generations, who will surely condemn them for their dereliction? Do they have absolutely no sense of the aesthetic or the historical that they can pass by this deteriorating landmark and not experience even a frisson of disquiet?
Well, now it seems, the benighted structure is falling victim to the muddle that is the Mayor and City Council, and the muddle that is the Ministry of Local Government, and the lacuna between the two. It is bad news for repairs and bad news for preservation. As the story in our edition today shows, even the money which former president, Mr Bharrat Jagdeo gave last year for emergency repairs has not yet been spent in total. The M&CC was given $20M, of which only $5M has so far been expended. According to Mayor Hamilton Green the council was waiting for the City Engineer’s Department to put forward a project proposal – for some months, one presumes. The city engineer had been told to start with the roof, but had begun with the windows instead and had done some work there. The Mayor said they were awaiting a report on the fact the $5M was not spent properly.
Well if all of that is not enough to make the sanest resident of Georgetown scream in exasperation, there is more. Minister in the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development Norman Whittaker has asked Mr Keith Burrowes, it seems, to manage the money (no complaints there), and review any payment to be made in this particular project. Exactly what progress he has made with the engineer’s department has not been revealed, but one can infer not too much, since not too much seems to be happening. Our reporter did ask Deputy Mayor Patricia Chase-Green what efforts the senior members of the council were making to get the City Engineer’s Department to function efficiently, and she replied, “When we intervene in matters of the council the officers run to the Minister who advise[s] them and they do not worry with the council.”
On the face of it this sounds like the death knell for City Hall: the department which is responsible for the emergency repairs is not doing what it should, and the council can do nothing because the officers complain to the Minister as a consequence of which they feel they can ignore the council. What is the matter with the Minister and the council? If both sides know that a department has urgent work to do that is not being done, can’t they operate in concert to ensure that it is? Are we so far gone in terms of the political divide, that we would allow an important item of our material heritage to fall to pieces just because of pettiness?
Other than the most unreconstructed philistines, those who live and work in Georgetown would not hesitate to say they wanted City Hall to be saved. Furthermore, they would say they did not care two goat’s whiskers who accomplished this. What they would not want to hear about is disputes or misunderstandings or lack of communication or lack of cooperation or lack of funds or lack of urgency. And if all the officials involved – government, city council and even the opposition – are not seized of the urgency of the matter, then the odds are we will not be bequeathing this particular heritage building which was handed down to us by earlier citizens, to those who will come after us.
Mayor Green did advert to the fact that they needed international help for total restoration. No doubt this is true. But emergency repairs apart, the first stage in the larger renovation of the structure is an assessment of exactly what would have to be done, and how much it would cost. That might mean bringing down an overseas specialist, which the government – perhaps in the form of the National Trust – and not the city council would have to do. But if it does do so, there should be no shopping around the international agencies for funding to pay for the expert to come here. That expense, at least, the central administration should be able to withstand, and surely the opposition would not object to a supplementary for the purpose if necessary. Once there is a costing then the matter of the larger project can be attended to. Of course, the government will want foreign funding for that exercise, and perhaps it will get it – or get it in part.
But supposing, for the sake of argument, it doesn’t, why can’t we pay for this ourselves? It wouldn’t cost anything like the kind of sums the government is proposing to sink into the unappealing Marriott Hotel, which from the drawings supplied has no aesthetic qualities to recommend it, and bears not even the remotest relationship to this country’s architectural traditions. Georgetown’s unique character is being systematically destroyed, and all these tourists which Minister Irfaan Ally burbles on so optimistically about, are simply not going to come to a city of concrete and glass (even if the garbage has been cleared), which is just a smaller scale version of where they live. If he had his priorities right, he would regard saving City Hall and the few remaining historical buildings in private and public hands, as being at the very top of his to do list.
Just for once, will the government, the council, the relevant agencies and politicians of all persuasions commit to saving City Hall in 2013.