There must be many streets in Georgetown in need of attention, and a huge number in rural and interior areas. Exactly why, therefore, so much work and expense is being lavished on Carifesta Avenue, a road of tolerable width which is in fairly good repair by local standards, has not been explained to the citizenry. It is true that just beyond it near the junction with the Kitty Public Road and JB Singh Highway there is a hazardous crater in which the authorities recently planted an oil drum as a means of alerting drivers; however, no one does over an entire road for the sake of a hole, particularly if it is located in what at best could be described as an extension of that road. In any case, while contractors are busy digging up the median of Carifesta and generally generating a bit of traffic confusion, the offending trough remains unfilled, never mind that it is still being flagged by its rather battered-looking drum.
As we have reported – most recently on Friday – the avenue is being upgraded. It is to be widened on both sides so it can accommodate four lanes, and a median is currently being created which is intended to carry street lights. As some drivers have observed, to all appearances there isn’t a great deal of latitude for expansion on either side of the road, more especially in some sections, and at the very least it will involve no small amount of construction work. The contractors have chosen to embark on the median first, no doubt on sound grounds, but for various reasons parts of the avenue are now dangerous at night. This has been acknowledged by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, which has said this matter would be raised with the contractors.
It is commendable that the ministry is taking on board safety concerns and drivers’ complaints about the current state of the avenue, but it does not answer the basic question as to why all this work is being undertaken on Carifesta Avenue in the first place. While this has not been answered directly, the probable reason is hinted at in an announcement which came fairly recently that all the work would be completed by Caricom Day. Now it so happens that Guyana celebrates Caricom Day on the first Monday in July, and this year that would be July 4. Interestingly, the Treaty of Chaguaramas which created Caricom was signed by Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago on July 4, 1973, so this year would mark the forty-third anniversary of the birth of the regional organisation.
Furthermore, the Caricom Heads of Govern-ment Summit is due to be held in Guyana from July 4 to July 6, so in this year of anniversaries are we looking at another celebration encompassing our Caricom brothers and sisters? In May we had the new D’Urban Park, and in July, it seems, we are to have a new avenue. If so, it is all very fortuitous from President David Granger’s point of view, since it was the island of Dominica which was originally scheduled to host the summit this time around. However, it found itself unable to do so because of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Erika in September of last year. So was Guyana – since it is in celebratory mode – in the vanguard of hastening forward to offer its services?
But is hosting a Caricom Summit here on July 4 sufficient reason to expend all that money on Carifesta Avenue? Or is there some reasonable justification based on traffic statistics and projections, for example? If so, then the government should really tell the public what it is, because in the absence of information, speculation will abound.
There is something else too. It has been reported that Carifesta Avenue is to be renamed Avenue of the Caribbean. Are we to expect, therefore, that there will be a rechristening ceremony, where a Caricom head or group of heads cuts the proverbial ribbon – or some such equivalent formality? Certainly, this information about the name-change has not been placed in the public domain in any formal way inviting responses and discussion, but it has not been denied either.
In the first place, Carifesta Avenue is well within the boundaries of Georgetown, so unless there is some special dispensation citizens are unaware of, one would have thought that the administration should approach the Mayor and City Council on the matter. What is the point of local government if the central authorities are going to bypass the local ones on matters which fall within their jurisdiction? And if the Ministry of the Presidency does suddenly wake up and remember to approach City Hall, the latter should ensure that it engages the public on the issue, and does not simply acquiesce without demurral in the wishes of the government.
Unlike the case of the airport at Ogle, there probably won’t be much controversy about a change from Carifesta to Caribbean, although most Georgetowners will wonder why it is necessary. Both names reflect a similar sentiment in relation to our neighbours in the region, although ‘Carifesta’ is especially associated with this country in so far as this is where the festival was inaugurated. Why, therefore, does the government want to obliterate that?
There has been no administration in recent times which has been so fixated on renaming institutions and places as this one. In some instances the name changes did not matter too much, as in the case of the Arthur Chung Convention Centre; after all, it could be argued that the centre didn’t have a name in the first place. However, there was no consultation on the matter; it just issued like a ukase from on high. In other cases, there have been misnomers, such as when the suitably named Ministry of Health found itself with the unsuitable appellation, Ministry of Public Health; or considerable controversy, as in the example of the airport mentioned above.
The point is that names have histories and associations for ordinary citizens; this is part of their world, and other compelling arguments apart, before a government takes a decision to alter that world by changing a street name in particular, it should put up arguments for so doing. In addition, as said above, it should also be prepared to give the public an opportunity to have its input into the matter.