One critical flaw in the management of this country that has not changed even one iota, despite the changes in the managers over the years, is our seemingly wilful or unwitting neglect of many state institutions, both with regard to systems and infrastructure. As a consequence, many buildings are no longer ideally located neither ideally suited, in terms of structure, with respect to facilitating the execution of the critical functions of the institutions that are housed therein.
One good example of this, particularly in terms of its location, is the Guyana Parliament building, which is located in close proximity to the bustling Stabroek market square which remains busy even at night. Parliament also sits next to the busy thoroughfare connecting Georgetown with the East Bank of Demerara and this necessitates a constant rerouting of traffic whenever parliament is in session, greatly inconveniencing commuters, including school children, and disrupting business in the area.
But perhaps of more of critical and strategic importance is the neglect of the various facilities housed by the various arms of our Joint Services: the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Prison Service, and the Guyana Fire Service. Despite much emphasis on making lands available for housing by successive administrations, essentially expanding the cities, towns and villages in the process, there has been no real effort at a sensible strategic expansion of the various arms of the Joint Services to keep up with the demands on them by a population now more spread out in areas previously undeveloped and uninhabited.
The Guyana Defence Force has been headquartered at Camp Ayanganna since time immemorial and it appears that the managers of our territorial defence capability see no benefit in utilising the excess of available land to build a military base headquarters that is not literally next door to the public national park. This is not to suggest a moving of the current facility, but our main military base should be in a much more exclusive location even though not too far removed from the city.
Much has been said about the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Prison Service both about the quality of their systems and the location and conditions of the physical buildings in which they carry out their operations, and yet there is much more that can be said. However, the point of focus will instead be directed to the Guyana Fire Service whose headquarters share proximity, like the Guyana Parliament, with the Stabroek Market and a busy thoroughfare. Several other Fire Stations in the city and around the country also are located in less than appropriate areas, given the nature of the Fire service as an emergency service and the importance of unfettered egress and access to the facility by the emergency vehicles.
Just as the Guyana Police Force seems plagued with having to carry out policing functions at a time of rampant criminality and violence in all its forms, but does not have the tools to adequately address its obligations, so it appears that the Guyana Fire Service is also attempting to carry out its operations at a time when the incidence of fires is very high, but within limitations of facilities, infrastructure and systems. This quiet neglect of the Guyana Fire Service appears to have gone unnoticed by the general population despite the high degree of destruction of property by fire that occurs here in Guyana.
Despite the annual subventions aimed at the Joint Services each year, there is little if any sign of strategic or systematic growth of these institutions year in, year out. With the high direct financial cost that fires inflict on our economy, together with the disruption and displacement of people and services that also takes its toll financially and otherwise, we can ill afford to continue to neglect our Fire Service’s ability to carry out effective emergency responses and adopt a long term preventative stance that reduces the number of fires through modern information based preventative measures.
If we were to look up the online presence of the Fire Services of our Caribbean neighbours such as, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, and Barbados, we would be greeted with fully functioning websites complete with information and interactive capabilities to be of full use to online visitors. By contrast, the Guyana Fire Service has no claim to having an online footprint of its own making and even its own employees must carry out their jobs without the benefit of the type of technology that otherwise surrounds them in almost every facet of their personal lives.
The inability of the managers of our country over the many years to effectively compile and utilise data and information in order to aid in decision making has apparently limited them in any assessment of the annual cost that the country is shouldering as it continues to neglect important services such as the fire fighting and prevention services and the attendant emergency systems, facilities and infrastructure.
Like an albatross around an unfortunate seaman’s neck, Guyana continues to carry important state-run institutions with outdated equipment and sometimes non-existent systems, inappropriately located considering their purpose and function, unapologetically anachronistic, unchanging in appearance, systems, technology, or location in a constantly changing world.
There is much ado being made of ExxonMobil’s ability to handle an oil spill when they start production in 2020, but Guyana is yet to be able to handle the most basic emergencies including dangerous ones like fire, despite the best efforts of our brave, but ill-equipped fire-fighters. Time to fix our own house, one room at a time.