The National Trust of Guyana manages over 400 gazetted and ungazetted historic sites countrywide and while it is operating with a very small budget and limited staff, Chief Executive Officer Nirvana Persaud believes that support from the public, Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) and Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDCs) could help it to fulfill its mandate.
“We have a large maintenance list that we can hardly keep up with and its growing… it [maintenance] will remain a challenge because we have a provisional list but we also have a monument register of documented things of interest and that includes from commemorative monuments to statues to sites to tombs … that ranges over 400 throughout the country. That gives you an idea of our scope of work and the challenges we have because our staff… here is very small,” Persaud told Sunday Stabroek during a recent interview.
Persaud said that the Trust has a total of 16 staff members, eight of whom are permanent.
According to the Trust’s website, its main responsibility is the “preservation of all monuments in Guyana.” It is stated that under the National Trust Act, the term ‘monument’ includes any building, structure, object or other work of man or of nature whether above or below the surface of the land or the floor of the sea within territorial waters of Guyana and any site, cave or excavation. National Monuments are the vested responsibility of the National Trust and are gazetted as such after approval by Parliament. At present, there are nine gazetted National Monuments.
The mission of the Trust is conserving, preserving and promoting the nation’s patrimony so that the present and future generations will access and enjoy the richness of Guyana’s heritage.
Persaud told Stabroek News that it is the Forts – Fort Zeelandia, Fort Nassau, Fort Kyk-Over-Al and the brick windmill on Hog Island and the commemorative monuments – 1823 and 1763 – that are among the main focuses of the Trust. It was explained that the 1763 monument is gazetted, while the 1823 monument isn’t but because of its historical significance and importance, it automatically falls under the Trust’s control.
According to Persaud, the Trust “contributes” towards to upkeep of a number of other sites. “We maintain sites throughout the country… in terms of having them cleaned, having signage, infrastructure in place,” she said before singling out the Chateau Margot chimney, a tomb behind Grand Coastal Hotel where it is believed the Dutch planter who owned that area is buried, the 1823 monument and the Water Wheel at Linden as being among those being maintained.
She said that the Trust has been trying to “stretch its already limited budget” to assist in the maintenance of other sites countrywide.
Persaud said the Trust is severely understaffed and thinks its operations should be decentralised to make it easier for all of the sites to be properly managed.
She said that the eight permanent members of staff, including her, are responsible for the day-to-day operations, while the others are temporary members of staff who are contracted to work in communities where sites are located. “We design work, we inspect [and] we have to do this constantly,” she said.
Persaud said that the Trust has been pushing for decentralisation given that it has a countrywide mandate although it is based in Georgetown.
She stressed that it is impossible for officers in Georgetown to adequately visit and inspect over 400 sites.
“We are appealing to the RDCs and the NDCs to work with us… put these sites into your budget because they are within your jurisdiction and try to maintain [them], at least keep the grass low, keep the animals out, if you need to build a little fence we can assist from time to time but you take the ownership because you are the primary custodian of those sites and that we hope will extend to the communities and the citizens at the end of the day,” she said.
Lack of appreciation
In addition to the preservation of historical sites, the Trust is also responsible for ensuring that the public has access to and can enjoy these locations. However, according to Persaud, it is clear that the public has no appreciation for heritage sites as they are littered and vandalised. She said that one of the biggest challenges is getting the public to show appreciation for sites. She explained that flowering plants would disappear as fast as they are planted and bridges and other enhancement works are vandalised within a short space of time.
Stressing that the enhancement works are not appreciated, Persaud said that in a bid to preserve sites and keep them clean, the Trust is now forced to install warning signs and rules, which are things that ought not to be done. “You shouldn’t have rules to use monuments [but] they are right there and yet you see people standing and sitting on these areas on the monument that you should not,” she said, before adding that this is being done even though there are benches provided at the site.
“It is up to the citizens to really take stock of what your heritage is, what it means to you and I think that in itself would hopefully change our behaviour, our thinking,” she said, while appealing to communities to assist with the maintenance of sites.
Persaud expressed concerns about littering at sites, while noting that this practice occurs even though adequate bins and gates are in place. “Yet you see people taking it upon themselves to not want to dump garbage in their complex but they go dump it at the site. 1823 is a classic because it is at the seawalls…those bins are filled as fast as they are emptied,” Persaud said.
While acknowledging that the budget provided by government is not enough, Persaud said that the Trust is cognisant of the fact that there are other sectors, such as education, agriculture and security, which are more demanding.
Anyone desirous of learning about the work of the National Trust or visiting any of the historic sites can access information from the website http://nationaltrust. gov.gy or call 223-7146 or 225-5071. The Trust is located 94 Carmichael Street, Cummingsburg, and can be visited during normal working hours.